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Secret Japanese Beef Restaurant

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The culmination of my week in Los Angeles was truly a special, memorable event; I was introduced to the “secret Japanese beef restaurant.” What can I tell you about it? Well, I don’t know where it is because I was driven there and I didn’t pay attention to street signs or addresses. How does one get in? You have to be brought by someone who already has a relationship with the chef. When you arrive at the door, you knock and are only let in if you have pre-arranged the evening’s reservation. From the outside, all one sees is the façade of an ugly strip mall with the restaurant’s windows heavily draped to indicate a restaurant otherwise closed. Pics on eG.

There is no menu. You are served what the chef prepares. There is no wine list. You have to bring what you want to drink.

We started with a lovely Marie Stuart Champagne to accompany the platter of bites which were presented:

1. Tomato and cheese skewers
2. Quail egg and caviar
3. King crab with okra
4. Prosciutto and melon
5. Asparagus and walnuts
6. Salmon-stuffed with avocado and sprouts
7. Sundried tofu with tuna
8. Sautéed live clam with haricot vert
9. Shiitake mushrooms with new Caledonia shrimp and celery heart

How does one adequately describe the bounty of flavors offered in these little morsels? I started with the tomato/cheese skewer and was delighted with the freshness of the tomatoes. The quail egg and caviar immediately brought a rich, salty counter to the clean tomato. The okra provided a clear, gelatinous glue that bound the crab bites together. The asparagus with walnuts was a favorite of mine; almost Turkish in its sentiments. I continued down the plate, having these momentary delights with each individual bite.

1. Beef throat with soy, garlic, and miyoga – thus began the parade of beef dishes. This one was served sliced with appropriate accompaniments and it was only as we were finishing the dish that I remembered to shoot the picture.

2. Beef tartare with quail egg, shaved Japanese apple, sprouts, pinenuts, and cucumbers. The dish was brought out composed and layered. We mixed the dish together ourselves and dove in… What a stunning mélange of flavors! Most tartares are prepared with more classic ingredients of shallots, capers, cornichons, etc, but the influx of Asian flavors demonstrated a subtle elegance.

In preparation for the hefty part of the evening, the charcoal grill was placed in the middle of the table. We also had three sauces; a soy, a sweet, and lemon juice. When each platter of prepared meat was served, we were instructed with which each sauce the meats should be eaten.

3. Beef tongue was the first platter of meat offered for our grilling pleasure. In experimenting with grilling times, my first slice was grilled briefly and eaten rare which we all ultimately decided was the best (versus a longer grilling time which made the tongue a bit more tough).

4. Filet mignon with an assortment of vegetables; matsutake mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, and peppers. I have to admit – when I order steak in a restaurant, I tend towards the rib-eye or porterhouse but if all filets were like this one, I would certainly be a convert. So amazingly tender.

To help clear our palate between the meat courses, two courses were added:
5. Crudité of vegetables with a spicy miso dip and 6. Momotaru tomatoes

7. Outside Rib-Eye. The brilliance of the chef is his mastery of butchering. This had been hinted at with the earlier beef courses but was emphasized between these next two. With the outside, we were instructed to eat with no sauce.

8. Inside Rib-Eye. And with this, we were told to consume with the sweet sauce. Much discussion ensued about the differences between the Inside and Outside rib-eyes and how one would be able to order this from another butcher. Not likely, we determined… It is something this particular chef knows how to do and specializes in.

9. Short Rib. Tender, rich and remarkably different from the tongue, filet, or rib-eyes.

10. Skirt steak. Did I say I was getting full? I could barely handle this final savory course and honestly didn’t enjoy it as much as the first round of courses.

11. Assorted ice creams; lychee sorbet, espresso ice cream, white chocolate/raspberry ice cream, pistachio ice cream, and blueberry sorbet. A nice, refreshing finish to an amazing meal and an amazing week.

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  1. I'm glad you enjoyed your experience. It's called Totoraku, there are plenty of posts about it on this board. It isn't really a secret.

    5 Replies
    1. re: hrhboo

      same place
      310-838-9881.

      1. re: Jerome

        the sign outside is Teriyaki House on Pico.
        The address is
        10610 W Pico Blvd,
        Los Angeles, CA 90064

        to rephrase - I have attempted to make a reservation and been rebuffed. I wish everyone else greater success at what is reportedly a great culinary experience.

        1. re: Jerome

          Can you explain what happened when you were 'rebuffed'

          1. re: ns1

            I was told that I would not be accomodated. I was told that the chef only has repeat guests, "people he knows" and people who've been before. He told me it was expensive, Isaid I knew. The hostess and the chef both spoke with me on the phone. I was thanked politely for my interest and no reservation would be taken, and that I wasn't welcome.

            To be fair, I knew that this was the restaurant's policy or so I believed from postings on this board. I was skeptical as this was a public business. But it was clear that i would not be served and thta i would not be accomodated. That's their policy.

            To be petty, i will admit that my feelings were hurt. I don't know that i would turn down an opportunity to go if i were invited - I might. I don't know.

            I'm glad that some people here have been nice enough to describe the experience. The place apparently neither needs nor wants my custom. So be it.

            1. re: Jerome

              Here is a recent entertaining review of this place by Russ.

              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/377953

    2. How much did the dinner cost per person?

      9 Replies
      1. re: WHills

        I can't answer that question... I was someone else's guest.

        1. re: Carrie 218

          Was your friend Japanese, and then at the end did the owner hand you his private business card so you can try it on your own next time?

          from what've heard it's at least 175 per.

          1. re: kevin

            While my friend was not Japanese, I *was* handed a business card - however, since I live in San Francisco, it is unknown when I will be able to utilize the restaurant "on my own."

        2. re: WHills

          Last I heard it's $100pp, although that was from a couple of years ago, on the old Chowhound board.

          I actually was supposed to go earlier this week - my cousin knows the guy and has been many times - but it's been postponed. I never bothered to ask my cousin exactly how much it would cost. He did mention something about the guy doing wine pairings, so I don't think it's strictly BYO.

          1. re: WHills

            $170/person. The dinner was exceptional, but I think they're charging a premium simply because they can. I'm not sure I'll be back any time soon.

            As a point of comparison, I have no problem paying $250 for omakase at Urasawa.

            1. re: tritip

              275- since Jan 07' still one of the best deals for what you receive on the Planet.
              Also 30- corkage is now charged per bottle.

              1. re: russkar

                hey russ, is it 275 per for urasawa, or for totoraku?

                you also went to totoraku, correct?

                1. re: kevin

                  He means Urasawa. I just asked my cousin, he said Totoraku is $175pp, which includes (in his words), "some wine and dessert".

                  1. re: mrhooks

                    Correct I was talking about Urasawa.
                    When we went to Totoraku it was last Mar and 150-ea, it varies based on ingredients. It probably can exceed 200+- easy with some Kobe thrown in.

          2. I have to comment on how I truly enjoy Chowhound. Whom would have ever known! I thought that I travel in some good food circles. But you guys are the BEST! Thanks fellow hounds. Under the Radar on my screen..

            1. You know the reason it's a secret Japanese Beef restaurant is that the Chef doesn't like publicity or postings on food blogs. Unless you are given a card by the chef, you are not allowed to make reservations. I'm pretty sure Carrie 218 has now gotten her "host" blacklisted.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Anonymous1969

                i don't know if i'd go that far, but totoraku is referral-only for a reason. for what it's worth, it's not out of any sort of bias, a lack of a license, or some inflated sense of exclusivity. the owner basically doesn't want to expand his customer base too much because he feels he wouldn't be able to maintain the same level of quality in the product. so for those who've never been, play the game, make some connections, and hopefully you'll eventually hook up with an "in" ^^.

                1. re: rameniac

                  is it ok if you don't everything if you go there.

                  basically what i'm saying is that places like Urasawa allow you to make some concessions to dietary requests (i.e. no uni, for instance, etc.)

                  does totoraku also allow that, when you're making your reservatio?

                  1. re: kevin

                    hmmmm, i dunno. basically all they do is beef, beef, and more beef. they might ask you if you're really up for the raw liver, and sometimes they don't have the throat, but beyond that, i can't see them doing anything like urasawa might do (busting out a parallel universe for say, the vegetarian at the table). then again, it never hurts to ask!