Long review: Aburiya Raku (I wish you were in NYC...)
For photos and the review, please visit: http://thewanderingeater.com/2011/05/...
Aburiya Raku, or simply known as Raku, found in the heart of Las Vegas' Chinatown, is a Japanese pub that generally specializes on the robata, grilled meats and vegetables, but it's so much more than that (I'll explain later).
From where I stayed on the strip, I had to hail a cab to take me there; about a 10 to 15-minute ride. As the cab rolled along, Vegas' Chinatown is basically composed of strip malls of Thai, Korean and Chinese restaurants and grocery stores along W. Spring Mountain Road. If I had more time, I would consider exploring Chinatown's Asian markets.
Once I arrived to Raku, it's found toward the back of the strip mall and its only sign was this large canvas sign hung at the front door. When I entered inside, around 6:30, I was already greeted with a small crowd of people in front of a young Japanese hostess taking people's names, phone numbers, and number of guests for the party because they're already booked for the evening but at least on the on-call list, and some were taken to their tables. When it's my turn (about five minutes), we're welcomed with a friendly "hi", I told her my reservation and my dining companions and I were escorted to our table.
As I finally settled down, the main dining room was already packed, including the bar. It's a small restaurant mostly decorated with dark lacquered wood and deep burgundy walls and little flourishes of found around the hostess stand or near the bar and decorated with a medium-sized bouquet of tall flowers to break up the dark color palate.
As our waitress came to our table, she greeted us in Japanese and asked in English, "What would you like to order?" I named a number of dishes from their regular menu, a dish off the menu. She then lugged over a large chalkboard daily special (seen above) and ordered a dish from there, too.
The first two dishes brought out to us were the Seafood with bonito guts ($8), Yellowtail carpaccio ($12), and Poached egg with sea urchin and salmon roe ($9).
The seafood with bonito guts was a rainbow of sashimi in a bowl. Silky, cubes of tuna, salmon, and salted bonito innards, fatty salmon cubes, with fresh salmon roe and uni (or sea urchin) popping in my mouth, leaving tastes of sweet and salty. (This dish is off the menu.)
The yellowtail carpaccio was a beautiful expression of food minimalism by letting the pristine quality of the fish speak for itself, enhanced by a minute dollop of either yuzu and pepper mixed in grated daikon radish (colored green) or (red colored; grated daikon radish mixed with dried chili pepper).
A cold dish of poached egg with uni (also known as sea urchin) and samon roe looked like an usual bowl of neatly piled ingredients: a large, poached egg on one end, perfectly minced white mountain yam adjacent to it, miniature honshimeji mushrooms, a large puddle of ikura (salmon) roe, and a couple of slices of raw okra. The waitress told us we are supposed to mix this before we eat. Mixed we did and it looked like a messy mixture of all things gooey and chunky. Not the most appetizing thing to look at but it tasted rich (from the barely poached egg), gooey (everything there was barely cooked, at most) and delightful. The mountain yam and raw okra added the needed crunchy texture.
The next set of dishes that came out of the kitchen were ($3.50 per order) was. I've heard many good things about this particular grilled band of connective tissue. What perplexes me, in a good way, was the sheer size (probably 1.5 inches by 3.5 inches per chunk) and how insanely luscious and (barely) gelatinous it is. The texture is very similar to bone marrow except it holds up its shape from the collagen. After eating my portion for a good five minutes, I couldn't stop talking how good it was. I'm still thinking about it to this day.
The kitchen was saving the best for the finale, the evening's special that I ordered for the group: Kobe beef tataki ($18). Our waitress came out with the said dish with a shallow bowl containing a grater and a well-grated chunk of pink Himalayan salt. She described to us what was in the dish, grated in front of us the salt, and told us to get a little bit of everything in one bite. This barely grilled Kobe beef that's sliced and thinly pounded, marinated in vinegar, and garnished with myoga ginger, onions, ponzu, plum jelly, garlic chips, sancho pepper, spicy daikon radish. This dish was a flavor bomb - sour, tart, silky, beef-y, onion-y, and crunchy - this silenced my entire table for a good 30 seconds. All we can utter was pretty much, "Oh my goodness!" "This is amazing!" I do remember the myoga ginger imparted a haunting floral, spicy end note after all the robust flavors passed its phase. This dish was mind blowing that we flagged down the waitress and ordered another one.
We ended the meal with complimentary cups of Hōjicha teas as a non-alcoholic digestif, as the house knows pretty well that we ate a lot and most of our dishes were rich. Dessert didn't appeal to us as we felt like we're going to need a wheelbarrow to roll us out the door, through the parking lot, and hail a cab back to our hotels.
Overall, this was the most exciting and inexpensive meal during my stay in Vegas. Also, it is the best meal I ate as of the past 12 months. If you ever go to Vegas and have one evening to eat outside of the Strip, I highly suggest you go to Raku. When we paid the check and about to step out, the entire FOH (front of the house) staff and chefs yelled their goodbye with Itterasshaimase!
5030 Spring Mountain Rd, Las Vegas, NV 89146
Side question- what lens were you using and were you really running around the restaurant with an SLR ? :)
And I'm not squeamish by any means (I had the Beef Liver Sashimi) but I cannot fathom how anyone could consider the Beef Tendon as tasty. But I guess that's why people have different tastes. Basically, it was just glop in my mouth :)
Oh no doubt! For me it is a textural thing, albeit if it is not cooked and seasoned properly it is, just as you say, glop (as literally 90% of the places that serve tendon prepare it incorrectly). However Raku does a wonderful job of both cooking and seasoning. BUT it is not for everyone. I grew up with my dad teaching us that "the meat closest to the bone has the most flavor". And oh how he loved the grizzle (this is where the texture part comes in). And don't get me started with gizzards, hearts and necks of chicken (all of which you can sample at Raku).
Well you certainly didn't take those with a point n shoot :) I just never have the courage to get up out of my seat to get awesome shots.. You didn't need a tripod for those given the low lighting in Raku ? I assume the lens was the 24-70L 2.8 USM?
Ya, I grew up with the chicken liver/hearts, etc. Just the tendon I couldn't stomach :)
Who has a feel for how this compares with some of the Izakaya in New York such as Sagakura, and others? Does anyone know how the Kaiseki is here? Is it just a sort of Americanized Kaiseki or is it the real multi course elegant meal that you can get in Japan? The chef has training to do either since he was trained in Kaiseki in Japan, but also chef at En and Megu in New York. Anyone have an answer here?
Ahhhhhhhhh yes, the Kobe Beef Tendon! Lightly grilled to created a beautiful crust, smidge of salt, and WOW! Went last week (flight diverted and got a surprise night in Vegas, lucky me!) and happy to report that it still thrills me to eat at Raku. Although I will say, the service was WAY off this night and I encountered tremendous delays between orders. That being said, I am counting the days until September when I can go back and have the tendon or the Agedashi Tofu. True BLISS!!!
The 3 that I have been to and actually eaten in (Yakitori Totto, Hagi Bar and Aburiya Kinnosuke) are all excellent and each has dishes that range from good to excellent. Comparing these 3 to Raku I would give the slight edge to Raku for food. Service and drink will go to the others (no need to single out) as I do think that when it gets bust at Raku orders tend to back up. Not bad but can be spotty.
"The next set of dishes that came out of the kitchen were ($3.50 per order) was. I've heard many good things about this particular grilled band of connective tissue. What perplexes me, in a good way, was the sheer size (probably 1.5 inches by 3.5 inches per chunk) and how insanely luscious and (barely) gelatinous it is. The texture is very similar to bone marrow except it holds up its shape from the collagen. After eating my portion for a good five minutes, I couldn't stop talking how good it was. I'm still thinking about it to this day."
I'm guessing this is the Kobe beef tendon??