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Attention Totoraku alum...

Hi gang,

Finally got some time to make that first reservation to dine at Totoraku later this month (a friend with the vaunted Totoraku business card is taking me).

Just wondering if you Totoraku alumni out there have any suggestions on what bottles of wine(s) I should bring to our dinner with Chef Kaz? Don't want to upset the man, you know...

Thanks in advance!


10610 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

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  1. The man has drank some of the highest end wines out there. So anything aged and I think preferrably french.

    I brought a 1995 Las Cases, 1996 Pape Clement, and a 2004 La Crau. When he drank the Las Cases, he made a face and commented that it could use a couple of more years. It was pretty darned good at the time but he was right. He actually seemed to like the La Crau the best.

    I was handed a card after the meal so I guess the wines were okay.

    Enjoy. Don't get the liver.

    1. Honestly you don't need the best wines to get a return invite.
      We went with several, $100 and below bottles. But talked to him, invited him over, and had a good time with him and still received a business card to return. But I have also gone with friends that brought bottles that I can't even imagine how much they cost and he definitely appreciates them.

      14 Replies
      1. re: loblaw

        Wow, what a racket... you pay this dude top dollar, give him expensive free wine (which he may or may not appreciate), and HOPE that he wants you to come back to do it again.

        What am I missing here?

        This whole scenario sounds alternately disrespectful and sycophantic. If I'm paying top dollar for a meal AND am gracious enough to offer an expensive libation to the person I'm PAYING HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS TO, the dude had better be as gracious as Hiro Urasawa.

        Certainly you're entitled to do what you want with your money (and your expensive wine) but I certainly can think of many better things to do with mine.

        Mr Taster

        Urasawa Restaurant
        218 N Rodeo Dr, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

        1. re: Mr Taster

          It is synchophantic. Totoraku was an interesting experience a few years ago but once was enough

          10610 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

          1. re: Mr Taster

            I'm with Mr Taster here. For the cost involved you could buy the raw materials, coals, food, wine, AND furniture.

            1. re: Mr Taster

              It is a racket. That's why I have not bothered to use said coveted card. But the same could be said for Ludobites and many other restaurants.

              The meat is fresh and excellent in quality and I had some of the best steak tartare I've ever had.

              Here's another racket for you. Kokkekoko. Yakitori bar downtown. The owner sets up black and white plates. Black for VIP customers so they get better service and are "allowed" to order special off menu items and white dishes for all others. It's another incidence where you use wine to curry favor with the owner in hopes of receiving a black plate. The one time I was there, I even saw 3 people stand up from the bar after the meal and kiss his slightly outstretched right hand.

              Top that for sychophantic and disrespectful.

              1. re: Porthos

                Oh, you've hit on my other favorite elitist restaurant to nail :) Never knew about the black and white plates. Fascinating.




                Mr Taster

                1. re: Mr Taster

                  Try Torihei. Superior yakitori in every way. The wait is crazy but all you have to do is make a reservation in advance.

                  No boot licking necessary.

                  1757 W. Carson Street, Torrance, CA 90501

                  1. re: Porthos

                    Shinsengumi's bang for the buck is great. We can usually get out of there, with drinks, tax & tip included for about $20 per person. However, I will definitely check out Torihei... can you describe in detail why Torihei's yakitori is superior? I mean, we're talking about what is essentially caveman cooking. Chicken parts on stick. Fire. Eat. Yes, it can be outrageously delicious. But this is simple, humble, food- not complex haute cuisine.

                    As I see it, as long as there's a bit of crispy char and juicy, flavorful meat, I'm not sure what else you can ask from simple preparation of simple food. In my mind, $5 per 2 sticks is unreasonable. SSG's $1.80-$3.00 (approx) is reasonable.

                    Mr Taster

                    1757 W. Carson Street, Torrance, CA 90501

                    1. re: Mr Taster

                      Chicken parts on a stick is simple but like sushi, simple doesn't mean that skill and ingredients can't set places apart. I don't know much about yakitori grilling, but I'm guessing there is a bit of skill to get the outside charred and crispy just right and still maintain a moist delicious center.

                      The meatballs at Torihei are juicier and more flavorful IMO. The different parts of the chicken are grilled perfectly and are more flavorful than Kokkekoko. The heart, liver, and gizzards were excellent at Torihei and better tasting than the ones at Kokkekoko. There's also beef tongue, grilled shrimp, and other non chicken items on the menu. It's a great place to show up hungry and wash things down with beer and good company. I think the prices are more resonable but I can't be sure. I don't think its as cheap as SSG.

                      I'm made a reservation for this weekend after all this talk of yakitori...

                      1757 W. Carson Street, Torrance, CA 90501

                      1. re: Porthos

                        No, there's no special skill involved in the cooking process. Perhaps some extensive experience on which cuts need to be grilled a certain way, but the real skill is in the procuring and prepping of the chicken (or other meats). Basically, you get what you pay for, and which is why I'm not that enamored with Shinsengumi's stuff. It's perfectly satisfactory and fine for drinking food, but it's not a destination-worthy place for yakitori. Kokkekokko offers much better stuff, but I wonder if you're comparing the black plate stuff to Torihei? I'm sure I'll get to Torihei eventually. Try Tori Matsu in Torrance, or that yakitori place in Weller Court... Koshiji I think? Got to get there early for the hard to get yakitori items as it sells out quickly.

                        1. re: E Eto

                          I'm not a black plate alum of Kokkekokko so I'm comparing the regular white plate stuff.

                          I'd be interested in your comparison of Torihei vs Kokkekokko since you have had the black plate specials. I found the organ meats at Torihei more flavorful and better grilled than the ones on Kokkekokko. The extensive and very delicious rest of the menu at Torihei has me going to Torihei over Kokkekokko this weekend despite Kokkekokko being less than 1 mile away from where I reside.

                          1757 W. Carson Street, Torrance, CA 90501

                          1. re: E Eto

                            tell me more about thejoint in weller court?

                            btw, have you been to Totoraku on pico before?

                            10610 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

                  2. re: Porthos

                    I went for the first time a few weeks back...sat at the bar, alone, when restaurant opened.

                    I, too, noticed the black plates...however, service was terrific and I had no problem with the pacing. Yes, the regulars seemed to get additional "free" courses, but then again they "earned" them.

                    The food, as far as I could tell, was the same for both types of paying customers.

                    And it was all delicious.

                    FWIW, I could care less about the raw costs of food...that' not how I base my dining habits.

                    1. re: Porthos

                      i didn't either about the black and white plates.

                      as for Totoraku, it is a very heavy meal, you will feel very heavy and full and possibly garlic-ed out, though the white chocolate rasberry ice cream scoops does help matters dearly. for some reason, once may be enough, because of the heaviness, and when i went i just didn't want to go back for at least another few months.

                      that said, it is very good, but is it worth 185 per person? maybe not. but the raw beef is the best i've ever ever ever had, almost like having toro sashimi.

                      10610 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

                    2. re: Mr Taster

                      it is possibly sycophantic to get in, but he still very much appreciates it even if just have a can of beer or two or three when you go there. no need to bring a heavy duty wine there.

                      and once you get to known him he really is a sweetheart. but it is very expensive and entry is a bitch.

                  3. we went with a mish mosh of wine, bubbly and shochu. towards the end of dinner, we invited kaz over for a drink and he had one shot of shochu with us. he is friendly and we chatted with him for a lil bit.....i don't think people need to ply him with expensive alcohol. we did not and he gave us a business card that evening.

                    just be yourself and enjoy the food.

                    is it overpriced, yep. was it good, yep.

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: wilafur

                      As an avowed sensualist and Chowhound, I certainly can appreciate the perspective of giving it a shot once (as I did with Kokkekoko). But I'd be doing it first and foremost for the beef, and the experience, not for ego or the elitism.

                      I care what my wife, family and friends think about me, but who cares what some random stranger thinks? As long as the food is good, that's what matters.

                      Now, if I really liked this Chef Kaz, and/or if he bought us dinner (or invited us to his home for a meal) I certainly would be inclined (if not obligated) to bring and share a great bottle of wine. Otherwise, my sense of self respect will not permit it. Call me idealistic, but I have always felt that gifts should come from the heart, not out of a feeling of obligation or because you want something from the person, which means that my birthday and holiday gift giving (and receiving) is extremely limited, and I am absolutely, 100% OK with that. However, I have been known to surprise people with random, well thought out presents when the mood strikes (or opportunity knocks!)

                      Mr Taster

                      1. re: Mr Taster

                        Getting away from food, but I think it needs to be addressed:

                        Gift-giving from the heart is not a universally assumed precept. On the contrary, it is quite obligatory in certain cultures. I dare to go so far as to say that in certain situations & in certain cultures, the absence of a gift may even be considered rude or ignorant when visiting someone's home or in certain business dealings.

                        Now, having said all that, this visit to Totoraku is, for me, first and foremost a food experience; make no mistake about it. BUT since they don't have a liquor license, why not bring a few bottles of the good stuff with which to celebrate the occasion? No sense obligation from me here, just gift-giving from the heart (or rather should I say from the stomach)? :-)

                        10610 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

                        1. re: J.L.

                          I am married to a lovely Taiwanese woman so I am very familiar with the concept of gift giving-as-respect. Fortunately, I seem to have been blessed with one of the few pairs of Taiwanese in-laws that don't care much about gift giving either (though their neighbors and parents do, which certainly complicates matters- but that's society for you). So while I still don't agree with the concept, it's true that one does have to adapt in certain social contexts.

                          That's fascinating though-- no liquor license? Are we talking about no beer/wine or just hard spirits? What about all those wine bottles lining the shelf? And the stories about the wife locking the door behind guests when they enter-- I'm guessing this tiny place is off the radar of the fire marshall...

                          Here's a peek inside the place, by the way.


                          Mr Taster

                          1. re: Mr Taster

                            As far as I know, it's BYOB, and they do lock the door once you're in. This partly contributes to why I feel like it's more akin to going to someone's home, rather than your typical restaurant jaunt.

                            And yes, I am well-versed in KevinEats' 2 write-ups on the place. Here is his second:


                            1. re: Mr Taster

                              thanks for the link, wasn't aware there was a 2nd.

                              man, after reading that 2nd review I want to go. Just once though.

                              1. re: Mr Taster

                                According to ABC law you can't have BYOB if you don't have a liquor license.

                                1. re: Mr Taster

                                  she does lock the door after you enter, for each person, the inside doesn't look much better than the outside.

                                  and we actually ordered up asahis in hte can, if you can believe it, so liquor lic or not they do serve beer. for what it's worth.

                                  of course, the most import part is the great yakiniu cuisine.

                                2. re: J.L.

                                  they do serve beers, which i was served before. so they may have a liquor license??? i don't know the answer to that.

                            2. Thanks for all the interesting discourse.

                              Having spent some time in Japan, I figured this meal more akin to going over to someone's house for dinner (and you never go empty-handed in Japan)... As opposed to a typical dining out experience, where the restauranteur needs to earn the client's business. I'm actually okay with either paradigm, but in the interest of universal harmony and good vibes, I was gonna bring some wine anyways to accompany all that great meat.

                              p.s. I'm not paying for this upcoming meal - A business associate is opening up the corporate account for this one, so I don't mind dropping some coins on the vino :-)

                              1. Hi J.L.

                                Don't usually write on these boards, but since I randomly came across this thread, and know a thing or two about Totoraku, here are my two cents.

                                Don't worry about what bottles you should bring to Totoraku. Yes, Kaz is a wine fanatic, and he loves being offered a glass of exceptional wine (just as every chef, be it French, Italian, etc that I know) from his guests, but he does NOT expect it from his guests at all! Incidentally, I've seen guests offer bottles, glasses, what not, but since I usually bring a bottle of $30 Clos du Val, I don't bother offering him any, since I know that he wouldn't enjoy it. (He is also brutally honest, and if he doesn't like it, he'll tell you. But isn't that a good thing?) The only thing I leave him is my cash and my big satisfied smile, and hey, that's all he wants. :P

                                Additionally, let me try to explain the Totoraku system. Yes, it can be considered elitist and may seem sort of backwards here in the US, but it is based on the Kyoto-style "Ichigen-san Okotowari," which means "no first-timers." It was a way for the very high-end Kaiseki restaurants in Kyoto (a notoriously snobby city, even today, but also considered the center of Japanese culture) to assure a nice environment for their regular customers, by inviting only customers that they knew. This practice is not too common today, but still exists at certain, exclusive Kyoto restaurants. (The joke is that many of these restaurants are not even mentioned by Michelin as they refuse the "first-timer" Michelin judges.")

                                Originally, over 10 years ago, Totoraku's core customer-base were Japanese expats and celebrities, etc. who understood and appreciated the system. But these days, ever since Totoraku's phone number was leaked out into the Internet and with a greater interest in fine-dining, there are probably a lot of newer customers who go to Totoraku who may feel uncomfortable with this system. Very understandable. But once you secure that complicated reservation, it actually is an extremely casual place with fascinating, exceptional food, and I feel it is unfortunate that people may mistakenly be turned away for the wrong reasons, such as believing that you need to give a gift to Kaz in order to get good food, etc.

                                Hope this helps!

                                10610 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: tazmaniandevil

                                  Hi tazmaniandevil,

                                  Thank you for your thoughtfully written comments! I feel more relieved now about taking a less-than-stellar bottle to Chef Kaz. Before your post, I was a tad worried about possibly "risking his wrath", so to speak...

                                  Don't worry, I'm still leaving the Asti Spumanti at home... :-)

                                  1. re: J.L.

                                    So, what did you bring and what did you think?

                                    1. re: Porthos

                                      Upcoming meal... will report back...

                                  2. re: tazmaniandevil

                                    you definitely don't need to gift him. but remember it is still very expensive, but for someone that really wants to go, it isn't usually price that's the issue but just gaining entrance in the first place.

                                  3. oh, man, can you take me along too?

                                    from the looks of it, i think he does like those older bordeaux or barolos or heavy duty barbarescos,

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: kevin

                                      Funny, I'm actually going again tonight for time #2. One thing thats oft neglected is a nice bottle of champagne... I think its the best way to cut through some of the fattiness and it pairs quite well with most of the amuse. As per wine, you can't go wrong with a great burgundy, a well aged bordeaux, or a top notch Cali cab. First time I went I took an '82 Grand-Puy-LaCoste, an '86 La Dominque, and a '78 Beychevelle. Others in the group brought beer, sake, and more wine. Tonight I'll be taking a '00 PJ Fleur de Champagne & '82 Spottswoode.

                                      1. re: heyitsjai

                                        A 78 bechyville? How did you get it? Auction? Can you take me too? And a nice thank you in advance.

                                        Yea, red wine esp the heavy duty Cabs if going the CA route should work nicely or those older Bordeaux to cut all that richness done to size.

                                        Don't forget to put in a triple order of that white chocolate rasberry ice cream

                                        1. re: kevin

                                          Check the K&L old and rare selection. Plenty of old aged bordeauxs for you to choose from.


                                          1. re: Porthos

                                            It's cool that a wine store has a location on a street called Vine.

                                    2. Reporting back...

                                      Wow, what a meal! This meal changed my perception of the cow. Thanks to all Hounds who chimed in.

                                      We ended up bringing 3 very different bottles (our party was not big on drinking)... First, a bottle of champagne - Veuve Clicquot, to go with the appetizers. Also, a family member (who collects Bordeaux) told me to go get a bottle of 2005 Château Rol Valentin St-Émilion. Finally, I figured since because grill+beef means beer, I got a bottle of Hitachino Nest Beer, which is really an ale.

                                      Chef Kaz turned out to be super-cool! He'd actually never tried our Bordeaux before, and said it was very interesting (for better or worse). It turns out Chef Kaz & I know people in common... Small world.

                                      Now, on to the food... First, the appetizer plate... Here is the play-by-play (each one was paired with a sip of our Veuve Clicquot):

                                      Prosciutto di Parma and musk melon
                                      Grilled matsutake mushrooms - Oh. My. Goodness...
                                      Momotaro tomato and ricotta, in sliced Belgian endive & broccoli crowns
                                      Wild sockeye salmon rolls, with cucumber, daikon sprouts & California avocado
                                      Deviled quail eggs with smoked wild salmon
                                      Vegetable gelée with caviar
                                      Japanese persimmon tofu salad
                                      Lobster salad with Japanese jellyfish
                                      Black sesame gelée, adorned with edible gold foil and truffle oil-wasabi

                                      Spectacular appetizers, each and every one.

                                      Now, onto the non-grilled beef:
                                      Short rib carpaccio - Reminds me of Nobu's New Style Sashimi. With beef. Excellent.
                                      Beef ribeye tataki & beef throat sashimi - Amazing.
                                      House smoked & roasted beef tongue - So homey; just like Grandma used to make.
                                      Beef tartare, presented with thinly sliced cucumber, apple strings, pears, daikon sprouts & pine nuts, topped by raw quail egg - When all mixed in one bite, simply heavenly...

                                      Again, we were blown away by everything, especially the throat sashimi, which I've never had before... Awesome.

                                      Then, the table-top grill was brought out, already laden with hot binchotan (Japanese charcoal). All following items were grilled (except the crudités):

                                      Beef tongue, topped with rock salt
                                      Marinated filet mignon, with shiitake mushrooms, bell peppers, shishito peppers, and onions

                                      Intermission consisted of crudités: Raw lettuce, carrots, jicama, cilantro, cucumbers & cabbage, all presented with a sweet-tangy miso paste for dipping - Very refreshing!
                                      Momotaro tomato salad - Fantastically sweet and fresh tomatoes, at the height of ripeness.

                                      The grilling then resumed:

                                      Outside ribeye - Fatty, decadent; some melted fat made the fire flare up. A lot. Wonderful aroma, soft and rich.
                                      Inside ribeye - Meaty, hearty, all beef. Nice.
                                      Short rib, Japanese style (less marination than Korean galbi, and boneless) - Marbling was out of this world.
                                      Skirt steak - A wonderful end to our guided "Tour of the Cow".

                                      Three ice cream flavors and two sorbet flavors (all house-made). Yes, we had a scoop of each and every flavor:
                                      White chocolate with raspberry ice cream: Actually, thanks to you Hounds, we ordered 3 scoops of this flavor alone! Best advice ever. Thanks again!
                                      Pistachio ice cream - True to flavor, with roasted goodness.
                                      Espresso ice cream - Superb.
                                      Lychee sorbet - More awesomeness.
                                      Blueberry sorbet - Delicious beyond belief.

                                      Chef Kaz walked us out; we were all very happy campers.

                                      Grade overall: Very, very solid A. One of the best dining experiences in L.A. Thanks again everyone!

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: J.L.

                                        Cool that you got a bottle of Hitachino Nest Beer, and it was an ale...well, most of them are, but which one did you get? Did it match with the meat?

                                        1. re: Tripeler

                                          I'm not a big expert on Japanese ales, but the Hitachino bottle I got had a green owl on it, if that helps... And yes, the ale paired beautifully with all the grilled meats.

                                        2. re: J.L.

                                          great review. sounds like the menu has not changed since much.

                                          the smoked tongue is to die for!

                                          1. re: J.L.

                                            Photos from my meal...