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Dining

Blue Ribbon’s head-scratching deliciousness

The sushi bar and grill’s fried chicken and bone marrow shine

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The fried chicken that launched 1,000 accolades, served with wasabi-honey dipping sauce.
Photo: Bill Hughes

I don’t get Blue Ribbon. That doesn’t mean I don’t like it; it just means I don’t groove on its pricey, all-over-the-map menu. I’ve eaten there six times and never had a bad bite, but still can’t explain why it’s so appealing to everyone from fussy food-o-philes to the clippy cloppy heeled set. But wildly popular it is. Raw fish aficionados flock here, carnivores crave it, and women who’ve seen way too much Sex and the City practically use it as a private club. Maybe it all comes down to the fried chicken.

That chicken has been declared one of the best in the country by more than a few food writers, and it pretty much deserves the accolades. Dredged in flour, rolled in matzo meal seasoned with peppers and paprika, and served in all its Southern-fried glory with wasabi-honey dipping sauce, it is cross-cultural cuisine at its finest—worth a trip to Cosmo’s third floor all by itself. But its greatness begs the question: How do two nice Jewish boys (who happen to be classically trained French chefs) make such fabulous fried chicken at an offshoot of their New York sushi bar?

Restaurant Guide

Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill
Cosmopolitan, 736-0808.
Sunday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-1 a.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5 p.m.-2 a.m.

Perhaps a history lesson is in order.

Way back in 1992, a 50-seat joint opened up in New York’s Soho that dared to mix metaphors like few restaurants have before or since. Smoked sturgeon shared space with pu-pu platters, burgers, Chinese-style steamed fish and matzoh ball soup on a menu full of head-scratching deliciousness. The Brombergs (Eric and Bruce) were way ahead of everyone, save Wolfgang Puck, in channeling their inner eclectic, and all of New York—and especially New York chefs—took notice.

By the late ’90s, Blue Ribbon was the place to meet and greet chefs with names like Flay, Batali and Boulud, especially afterhours (it serves its full menu until 4 a.m.). Blue Ribbon Sushi followed, and in 2008, the Brombergs decided to meld their two concepts into the ultimate surf and turf confectionary, where one could partake of sushi and sake flights before settling on some American comfort food or a strip sirloin. What has traveled to Vegas is a very good Japanese restaurant combined with a better-than-average steakhouse, with a lot of pan-Asian touches deftly woven into the dishes.

Some of those dishes work beautifully and some don’t, but the good news is: the hits outweigh the misses, and if you order carefully, you’ll be swooning more than Carrie Bradshaw after a sex-bender with Mr. Big. Besides the chicken, other don’t-miss items include the me bachi maguro zuke (marinated bigeye tuna with ponzu) and the beef marrow bones with shaved bonito flakes over teriyaki sauce—the former, as meaty a piece of fish as you’ll find, the latter, as custard-y a piece of animal innards as exists in nature. That same marrow appears inside an egg wrapper atop oxtail fried rice of uncommon richness. If meat brûlée isn’t your thing, cleanse your palate with a Phoenix roll—mixed vegetables wrapped with cucumber and avocado—or one of many vegetarian sushi rolls, each as pristine as any wallet-bending seafood compaction. Missing meat? Get them to slip you the tongue—Wagyu beef tongue pressed into a terrine, accented by house-made teriyaki sauce and given regality and depth by the musk of black truffle.

None of this is cheap—the tongue will lick you for a cool $21 and you might feel gored by the oxtail for $26.50, but at least you’ll know you’re in the presence of something special (as you will with the delicate shumai dumplings). Not so with a pedestrian grilled hamachi with grapefruit and Serrano chilies ($24.50) or a 12-ounce New York strip ($52) that, while well-charred and beefy, doesn’t compete with the best in town. When you order such things, or dive into the sushi and sashimi menu—boasting 40-50 different fish a day and priced by the piece not the pair—your tariff can get stratospheric. Those prices warn you this is no country for fish novices. But if you’re the type who knows your masu (sea trout) from your sakuradai (cherry sea bream) and are willing to pay $8.50 a piece to taste the difference, you can count yourself among the sushi snobs who love Blue Ribbon. The rest of us will stick with the chicken, thank you.

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