Monday, June 29, 2009

Las Vegas Getaway: Raku Izakaya

Japanese Charcoal Grill
5030 Spring Mountain Rd #2
Las Vegas, NV 89146
(702) 367-3511

Located a short but beautiful cab ride away from the strip, through what I think of as Little Asia, sits Raku at the back of a strip mall. It can be difficult to see Raku from the street, where it is tucked away. In my mind I am calling the neighborhood Little Asia because the retail and dining options of China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam and more all merge together in shiny brightly lit strip malls merging as one long neon streak as your taxi zooms toward its destination.

We originally made a reservation for Wednesday, then thought how fun it would be to bring a group of friends in town the following night so canceled and made a different one for Thursday. About an hour later we changed our minds (typical), called back and they had already booked our table. We came out anyway and ate at the small but lovely bar.

Our server's husband was sitting at the bar with us, and it turns out he is a sake rep. It was a bit like sitting with our own personal sake sommelier. He works for World Sake Imports, and kindly and deftly guided us through a couple of beautiful sakes. I really have never met a sake I didn't like, so I am an easy and willing victim. We started with a 10 oz bottle of 出羽桜“ミニ大吟醸” Dewazakura "Sakura Boy". Light and lovely, without any of the distinguishing melon flavors I sometimes love in a cold sake. This was slightly dry and linear and it was great.

Over our shoulder, we spied someone eating a beautiful giant squid dish that was not on the regular menu. The main body of the squid was served as sashimi, while the upper tentacles were marinated and grilled.

I love a little squid sashimi, and this was not a little. It can be hard to chew, so be careful how much you put in your mouth at once.

The tentacles were marvelous however, and we had no problem gobbling these down.

Another item not on the regular menu you will find online, is a Kurobuta pork belly in a dark sauce. Delicious and incredibly fatty. In most western restaurants I find the pork belly to be cooked so that the fat is served more solid. The flavors here are delicious, but the meat fell from the flesh readily making it easy to separate the muscle from fat. Please, don't hate me. Each bite was still thoroughly embedded in silky fatty flavorful tissue. However, the amount of fat in the dish altogether was a little overwhelming. Bitter greens on the side were psychotically and deliciously infused with fat and sauce. My mouth waters for them.

Hands down my favorite dish of the evening was the agedashi tofu. ZOMG. What? How have I never had this before? Where can I get a Los Angeleno equivalent? The soft tofu here is homemade, served in a hot savory/sweet broth with green onions, ginger and ikura on top. I want a vat of this. I want to roll around in it like a dog. Want.

The second bottle our new friend suggested was 山形出羽桜出羽燦々Dewasansan Junmai Ginjo. This bottle exhibited more of the fruitlike flavors I love. It is so beautiful I treated myself to a glass a couple nights later at Restaurant Charlie, despite the fact that Trotter's booze mark up is ass-rapingly ridiculous. $40 for a glass of Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label. Really? I understand a healthy booze mark-up to cover costs, but Trotter may have lost his mind a little. I digress. This is a fantastic sake, anytime, anywhere at any price (kinda).

The last item we nommed on was suggested by our friend the sake rep. A chicken breast wrapped in skin, from the robata.

This was outstanding. The most succulent, tantalizing piece of chicken I have ever put in my mouth. It needed no sauce and no formal introduction.

Such a beautiful little breast of chicken, protected from the hot fires of the grill by an insulating piece of chicken skin.

I was sent to Raku by Tony of Sinosoul, as a sort-of challenge. He has deep disdain for The Open Door Izakaya in Monterey Park, and I liked it quite a bit. My answer to this challenge is that one cannot compare The Open Door to Raku, it is apples to oranges. The Open Door is a lovely little spot for fairly white-washed but yummy Japanese pub food. Raku is excellent, much more authentic food of the same genre but perhaps not always to the tastes of people who enjoy their food less exotic. Please view these menu shots provided kindly by John Curtas of Eating Las Vegas.

courtesy of Eating Las Vegas

I don't know many people who would order something simply called meat guts. I just don't. Call it something fancy like foie gras, or add it to a tray with other meat parts and call it charcuterie.

courtesy of Eating Las Vegas

Same basic premise goes for bonito guts, and I even know one person who actually fears the ghost-like movement of bonito flakes in a breeze from an air conditioner or an open door. Although I am sure most people would indulge in Meltin' & Creamy Chocolate Cake. In terms of a competition for flavor, experience and authenticity, Raku wins. It also wins in my mind as my best food experience in Las Vegas to date. But I stand firm in my stance that the two, The Open Door and Raku, cannot be compared. So, suck it Tony. I kid, I kid. You know I love ya.

A wonderful piece of trivia for anyone slightly inclined or slightly dubious of heading off the strip for maybe the best izakaya I have ever had. Dining at the bar at Bartolotta (do you sense a trend in preferred restaurant geography, there's a trend) our wonderful bartender shared with us the fact that Raku is Chef Bartolotta's favorite Japanese in Vegas. He speaks of its culinary wonders frequently, and often takes guests there to dine when service in his own establishment is done for the evening. Raku, open til 3am. When in Vegas, go eat.


Anjali said...

Agedashidofu is super-easy to make at home! Here's a recipe I posted while I was living in Japan. The potato starch is key, as is buying a good (read: not the cheapest) brand of tsuyu.

Kristine G. said...

Beautiful photos! I love how you get all up close and personal with the food. :)

SinoSoul said...


I think "suck it" is the new foodblogger phrase of Q2 '09. The Fresser loves it so, as well. Tho I didn't comment, I did read your first draft, and have to say the final version is SO much more fun.

Have not been back to Open Door but I gladly stake my reputation on Raku time and time again. Good enough for Bartolotta, good enough for 99% of us.

In the end, all that matters is YOU enjoyed it Liz. As far as something akin to Raku in LA? I'd say.. Izakaya Bincho in Redondo...