Aria (last visit: May 2010).
A branch of the New York original, Bar Masa is chef Masayoshi Takayama's first foray into the Las Vegas dining scene. Despite its name, Bar Masa lacks a sushi bar. And what's with the name? Is it BARMASA, or BAR MASA, or Bar Masa? Even its own web site uses all three versions. I've gotten to really hate the trend toward using multiple capitals in one word, so Bar Masa it is.
Bar Masa encloses another area, known as Shaboo. Shaboo is a $500+ per person extravaganza, which seems to be aimed primarily at whales - those people who gamble so much that meals are provided free of charge.
There's a lot of sushi and sashimi, but there are alternatives as well: sukiyaki (with or without foie gras); grilled Ōmi beef (with or without white truffle); seafood and vegetable tempura. Luxury ingredients, such as foie gras and white truffles, pop up all over the place; prices reflect this. Sushi prices are also very high; note that one order of sushi is just one piece, and pieces are the traditional single-bite size, not the mega pieces Americans have become accustomed to.
This is one large restaurant. Modern looking and spare, its high ceiling contributes to the feeling of space. Loud music plays. One major negative: there's no sushi bar.
Service is a weak point. My server was friendly, but lacked specific knowledge of the more exotic dishes. Given the inability to interact with a sushi chef, that's a double whammy. As suggested by the server, I ordered a couple of things at a time. That worked well when the restaurant was empty, but resulted in long waits as the place got busier ("busier" is a relative term, as the restaurant was never more than one third full).
I ordered a combination of sushi, sashimi and other items. The quality of the sushi and sashimi varied between very good and excellent - no complaints there. About the worst I could say of any dish was "interesting but not special." For example, unagi sushi served without BBQ sauce allowed the high quality eel to speak for itself, but was a bit plain. Some items, such as toro sashimi and hamachi sashimi, were about as good as I've ever had. Also recommended: uni; akamutsu (fatty deep sea snapper); aji.
I ordered a few non-sushi items as well:
Crispy Deep Fried Snapper Head. I've eaten a number of unusual dishes at Japanese restaurants, but this was new to me. The small amount of flesh was, as expected, a little tricky to extract, but it was rich and tasty. I have no idea if I was supposed to eat the eyes, but I did give one a try - and quickly regretted the idea. It was consigned to my napkin.
Sizzling Spicy Octopus. A good sized appetizer, it was flavorful and only a little spicy. Not a great dish, but interesting.
Ōmi Beef Tataki, Hibachi Grilled. Ōmi beef is a type of wagyu beef, and a famous one at that. The beef of the Imperial Japanese Household, Ōmi beef is a competitor of the more famous Kobe beef. The one to perhaps one-and-one-half ounce portion was lightly seasoned and served medium rare. It was excellent, although I liked Bar Charlie's version better. Was it worth $89? Not really, but it's something worth trying once.
Bar Masa's food is almost as good as it claims to be. If it had a sushi bar, I'd have no major complaints except for price. Except for price. As good as it is, prices are so out of line as to be ridiculous. If there were a sushi bar, with a world class chef in attendance, offering a true omakase experience, it might at least be justified. As it is, it just feels like a rip-off. I'm betting on either a quick closure of the restaurant, or a serious change in its offerings and prices.
The meal was $280, plus drinks and tip. By ordering carefully, and eating lightly, it's possible to eat for much less.
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