Few words in the culinary world are as contentious as fusion. When a chef tries to merge one cuisine with another (or with various outside influences) the results can be, depending on the talent of the chef and the open-mindedness of the diner, anything from genius to an atrocity. It often comes down to whether the chef has mastered a style of cooking before tinkering with it, and whether he or she treats it with the proper respect.
At 28 Go, an Asian fusion restaurant on Maryland Parkway, I’d definitely answer yes to the first question, although the second is a matter of opinion. If your only concern is whether the end result tastes good, however, I can offer a very enthusiastic, “Hell, yeah!”
28 Go is located directly across Maryland from UNLV’s Greenspun Hall. The name is a reference to a classic Japanese anime series, and the restaurant features an anime décor. That includes a flat-screen TV showing Japanese cartoons, a robot painted on a brightly colored wall, and chairs that have been adapted to the sci-fi theme (making them pretty cool to look at, but not terribly comfortable).
The restaurant is open for three meals a day. Breakfast consists primarily of waffles stuffed with your choice of bulgogi beef, sweet chicken curry, melon custard or a combination of kielbasa, eggs and cheese ($7-$8 with two eggs). Later in the day it offers various types of ramen ($8-$9.50), “tapas” ($3.5-$9.50) and entrées ($12-$20).
When my wife and I paid the restaurant our first visit, we snacked on an assortment of the tapas. Options include everything from yellowfin poke ($7.50) and pork belly wrapped in kimchi ($6) to a sliced hotdog with kimchi ($6) and a pulled-pork wrap ($7.50). We began with the restaurant’s take on edamame, which was served with garlic-infused soy dipping sauce and a tiny bowl of wasabi-infused sea salt. The sauce put a very nice spin on the simple classic, but completely drowned out any added kick the salt was intended to provide. A brick of steamed rice topped with paper-thin, melt-in-your-mouth slices of pork belly ($4) was excellent, as was a large order of wonderfully seasoned grilled ribs that fell off the bone ($8). But our favorite was a dish referred to as ungyoza: ravioli-style pockets of gyoza skin stuffed with spicy pork and cheese ($6 for three large portions).
We’d planned to order more, but after those four dishes, we were satisfied. So our entire dinner bill, including a pitcher of tasty sangria, was less than $45 with tax.
Duly impressed with the small plates, I returned the next day to sample the ramen. 28 Go offers four types: shoyu (soy broth) with rib meat ($8), miso with pork belly ($8), a house herbal recipe ($8.50) and seafood kimchee ($9.50). The staff freely admits it plays fast and loose with traditional recipes, tweaking them to the chef’s tastes. They even encourage guests to blend two broths together and add a protein to create their own “fusion ramen” ($9.50).
I tried the seafood kimchi version. All ramen come with a choice of raw or soft-boiled egg, and I opted for raw. A few minutes later my friendly server (the same from the previous evening) returned with a large bowl of thin ramen noodles and broth, and informed me it was precisely 168 degrees. I hadn’t been prepared for the deep red color, and when I inquired, he told me it was infused with the house hot sauce. I quickly removed the tails from three medium shrimp, pulled the meat from three mussel shells, stirred in the egg, seaweed and wood-ear fungus, and dug in.
Ramen purists would probably view this dish the same way sushi purists like me see screaming orgasm rolls — as an abomination. Where traditional ramen is a delicate balance of subtle flavors, this is big, bold and in-your-face. But it’s good, so diners unconcerned with tradition will probably like it.
The chefs at 28 Go understand Asian cuisine and show a mastery of technique. They’re also creative, and don’t seem to give a damn about pissing off purists. That, combined with low prices, makes this place perfect for a college campus. Free-spirited diners from elsewhere in the valley should also give it a try.
28 go 4632 S. Maryland Parkway, 895-9899. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene on Al Mancini’s blog, www.almancini.net.