THIRD GEISHA HOUSE FOOD HIT-AND-MISS
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After more than a decade with CityLife, writing my last column was destined to be difficult, at least emotionally. So I suppose the logistical difficulties I had in dining at the newest Geisha House were appropriate.
My first planned visit was cut short before ordering because I wasn’t feeling well. On my second visit, my companion abruptly cancelled on me. And on my third attempt to dine there, the place was closed for a private party. So I’ve only dined here once, sadly alone and over-ordering so I could sample as much as possible.
Geisha House’s third Las Vegas location occupies a space that previously housed Sapporo, which combined teppanyaki, sushi, modern Japanese cuisine and an active nightlife scene. The new owners are trying to recreate that mix - throwing in some soups and noodles for good measure. They’ve thrown a fair amount of cash into redecorating what was already a pretty sexy space. And I immediately recognized a few staff members as veterans of other quality restaurants.
To be fair, I haven’t tried the teppanyaki at Geisha House. Given the recent resurgence of this style of table-cooking, I’m sure it will be among the most popular aspects of the restaurant. But unless an innovator like Nobu Matsuhisa or Masa Takayama takes it on, it’s pretty much the same wherever you go. And based on the menu alone, Geisha House doesn’t appear to be trying to re-invent that particular wheel. Nonetheless, with full meals priced in the $35 - $40 range, it’s a lot more reasonable than many competitors.
The sushi, soups and noodles are also fairly predictable, and a bit on the pricey side. But there are some creative touches in the “tapas” and entrée sections of the menu. In the former, you’ll find things like calamari fricassee ($8), mushrooms stuffed with crab meat, cream cheese and eel sauce ($7) and a deep-fried jalapeno stuffed with cream cheese, spicy tuna and eel sauce ($7). The latter includes citrus-scented halibut ($25), panko-crusted scallops with faro risotto ($28) and Kurobuta pork belly with an onion/honey soy glaze ($17). For the best deals, check out the two happy hours of the day, between 4 and 6:30 p.m. and after 10 p.m.
The food itself is hit-and-miss. Some dishes, like the scallop ravioli, are pretty innovative. They consist of two slices of scallops stuffed with sea urchin and topped with salmon roe. It’s a truly beautiful flavor combination (especially this time of year, when sea urchin is just starting to come into season). But with an order consisting of just four, tiny “ravioli,” each about the size of a quarter, the $15 price tag seems a little steep. I felt the same way about the pork belly skewers. While they were very tasty, even the happy hour price of $6 didn’t feel like much of a bargain for two small skewers.
Other dishes just disappointed me because they weren’t what I was expecting. The rocket lettuce, for example, promised a green tea boiled egg, spicy tofu and ginger scallions ($6 at happy hour). While I’ll admit all of those ingredients were on my plate, the dish ultimately amounted to little more than a lightly seasoned salad with a sliced hard-boiled egg. Worse, yet, however, was my salmon carpaccio ($5 during happy hour). The menu described it as being seasoned with wasabi, yuzu and crunchy onion, but the green sauce adorning it was actually avocado cream, not wasabi. To my server’s credit, when I asked for some actual wasabi to go with it, he provided it free of charge (the good, grated real wasabi - not the powdered crap so many places use!).
I was also sadly disappointed with the restaurant’s much-touted cocktail, the Bubble Wrap. Served in a glass sphere, the combination coconut sake, vanilla rum, pineapple and lime juices, coconut milk and ginger beer is so absurdly volatile that it’s hard to get past the foam erupting from the glass and actually taste it. And when you do, the admittedly good taste can be overshadowed by the burn in your nose caused by the vapors being expelled. Once again, however, I have to give the restaurant credit for correcting their flaw. When I mentioned to my bartender that drinking it felt like snorting bathtub meth, he took it off my tab.
Geisha House has a few problems, but it also has some high points, and I know there’s a lot more to discover. I hope those of you who have read this column for the past ten years feel the same way about me.
Geisha House, 9719 West Flamingo Road, 369-9637. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene on Al Mancini’s blog, www.almancini.net and follow him on Twitter @almancinivegas.