RAKU: A must eat in Las Vegas!

Aburiya RAKU Restaurant
5030 Spring Mountain Rd # 2
Las Vegas, NV 89146-8705
(702) 367-3511

It has been such a long time since I have talked about a restaurant...and yes, though I am busy, there is another reason.  I blame it on lack of inspiration.  though...there is one very specific occasion that was really quite mind blowing, one dish in particular, but I will post about that soon.  

It wasn't until recently that I finally had a meal that moved me in almost its entirety.  So often when I lived in Vegas, I always complained that there were not a lot of places to go for great Japanese food and the only place that I loved, and really deemed as my favorite restaurant in Vegas was Sen of Japan.  

I was told about Raku from a dear friend Kevin a while back, but never had the opportunity to go myself.  Being of Japanese decent and having a pretty good palette when it comes to Japanese food, I totally trusted him.  I had actually recommended Raku to some other friends, based on Kevin's rec and they all loved it too.  So I have been jonesing to go myself and finally took the opportunity this past week.

For the briefest moment, I thought I should call for reservations, but thought, what the hell, let's just try and see if we can get in.  I sent Anna in first to while I snapped off a couple of pictures.

When I went in, the girl said the next available seat would be at 10.  There were two empty seats at the counter and I asked if we could sit there, but she kept saying that the next reservation was at 10.  Then she said, well, if the person with an 8pm reservation didn't show after 15 minutes we could have their table.  Again, I asked about the two very empty seats at the counter and she said no.  So, we said we'd wait and hope the 8pm didn't show.  We sat outside, watched a car drive up, a man get out, go in, come back and wave to his wife/girlfriend to come in.  Now...my first thought..."Oh no you didn't just give away those two seats at the counter!"

Now you tell me...doesn't that seem odd to you?  It was pretty obvious that he didn't have a reservation and only called to his wife/gf to come in after they said he could get a seat.  Well...you can already tell where this is going and I was getting a little heated to say the least.  So of course, Anna gets up and looks in while they get seated at the counter and the girl at the desk averted her eyes when she saw Anna, because she knew that what she did was totally wrong and completely effed up!!  Wouldn't you be mad if you got screwed like that?! 

So knowing that she was totally caught for effing us over...she quickly came out and said we could sit at the counter.  First of all, I seriously don't have a problem with waiting, but to blatantly give away two seats I was asking for to people who came in after us is really bad for business.  I was totally pissed and lucky for her, the food was awesome.  Or this would be a very different review.  Not about the food, but about the bad treatment of customers.  And you know I rarely talk about that stuff unless it's really bad.

So finally seated at the counter we were able to have a birds eye view into Chef Endo's domain.  

From the Robata grill:

Shishito peppers
Enoki mushrooms wrapped in bacon...

Grilled pork ears...

We didn't actually order the pig ears, we had asked for the kurobuta pork cheeks, but they had written it down incorrectly.  I will say this, though it was the waitress's fault for not writing down the correct item, I think they were going to make us eat it anyway.  Which is kind of strange, but since I was feeling fearless, I said, "Bring it on!  We'll take it!"  It was crunchy in texture, had good flavor.  Not strange at all, but oh, there was this one last piece and you could tell it was kind of fatty...so I said I'd split it with Anna, and omg...it was the best piece.  It was so good! We also shared some pig ears with the couple that came in and got our seats...but we aren't haters, it's not their fault.  Plus food is enjoyable when everyone is into it too!

Scallops in soy butter sauce...(salivating just looking at this!)

Can you say tender, succulent and divine?!  The soy butter sauce was just perfect for the delicate piece of scallop...I seriously wish that I could have a couple more of those to pop in my mouth right now as I'm writing this.  Simple and good.  That really is the running theme here.

Grilled eggplant.  Why no picture?  Well, I accidentally deleted it, and I'm too lazy to get up and get my memory card and reload it.  And quite honestly, it was actually my least favorite dish of the night.  So I feel like there is no point in showing it.  It really was just ok for me, and I'm a huge eggplant fan.  They suggested adding a bit of the Raku soy sauce, but it was still just ok for me.  I think a touch of the macha sea salt would've been another great additional seasoning.

Kobe skirt steak with garlic chips...

Whoa, tender, tender, TENDER!!  For skirt steak?!  You always think...skirt steak, kinda chewy...but flavorful.  Oh man...not this piece of skirt steak.  Again, just a hit of the sea salt...so awesome.  I could eat a few more skewers of this too!

Filet of Kobe with wasabi...

Oh mama mama mama!  Yet another terrific dish.  So simple...another touch of that salt and the wasabi!!  Not at all over powering...tender frickin' meat and just down right good!  Perfectly cooked...what can I say but it's awesome!  You gotta order this!  And don't make the same mistake I did...SHARING!  It's overrated when it comes to this delicious meat stick! 

Kurobuta pork cheek...

It was great with a hit of the chili pepper sauce and a touch of the Raku salt.   A little chewy, but flavorful.

Tsukune:  ground chicken and mountain potatoes...

Anna really enjoyed the flavors of this dish.  If I hadn't known that it was the Tsukune (chicken) I would've thought it was fish. It kind of reminded me of cooked salmon, which you guys know, I'm not a fan of cooked salmon. 

Hot appetizer:
Agedashi tofu in hot broth.  This is one of their house specialties and it's their homemade tofu that has been deep fried, then put into this rich broth with nameko mushrooms, roe, green onions and dried roasted seaweed. 

Can you just say DELICIOUS?!  The crispy texture on the outside of the tofu then the soft innards of the tofu, a little nameko top, the salty pop of roe, fresh pungent green onions, salty seaweed and the rich broth make a beautiful mouthful of flavors in one spoonful.  I love the combination of flavors and textures...this is another must get.

Yam noodles
Slab of hot mustard

What is ODEN?  Well,according to wikipedia...

Oden (ใŠใงใ‚“) is a Japanese winter dish consisting of several ingredients such as boiled eggs, daikon radish, konnyaku, and processed fish cakes stewed in a light, soy-flavoured dashi broth. Ingredients vary according to region and between each household. Karashi (Japanese mustard) is often used as a condiment.

It was all very light in flavor, so having the mustard and adding some shichimi pepper gave it a double boost of heat and flavor which I love.  

A late arrival from the grill:
Kobe beef tendon: OMG

For those of you who are squeamish about soft textures in your mouth, this isn't for you.  But for those of you who just relish in the soft, sticky like texture of tendon that has been cooked to that point of just melting in your mouth...this is for you.  That little bit of crunch grilled goodness melded with the softness of the tendon was so incredible.  OMFG!  (oh my effin goodness) Lord have mercy on my soul...I loved this dish.  I wish I had ordered a big hot bowl of noodles and had it all together.  I put some hot chili sauce on it too...damn was it good!  

Connoisseurs of tendon...come try this.  You won't regret it.
Chef Endo's own soy sauce blend.

Yum!  One of my favorite spices:  Shichimi Pepper

Raku's Green Tea Salt...

LOVED their salt!!  I wish they sold it!  I'll have to ask them next time and see if they would!  It was the perfect seasoning for everything that needed that little hit to just bring out the wonderful flavors.  The food is all very subtle and delicate, but with the right seasoning, it just elevated it to another place.

Koregusu: hot chili peppers sauce.

Chef Endo, taking the time to show Shin, the chef at the counter who prepared all of the Oden and omakase dishes, how he'd like the omakase dishes to be presented.

To make your bathroom experience more pleasurable and soothing...you are surrounded by nature...and the sounds of nature too!  It was really cute. 

More ODEN:

Napa cabbage stuffed with the ground chicken like from the Tsukune

We didn't see the "specials" menu so after stuffing our faces with 16 other options, we HAD to order two more off the board.

There were two things in particular that totally stood out.  And being the carnivore that I am, and of course, my new found love of pork...

Yup...you got it...pork belly was one of them. 

Holy crap...this was sooooooo decadently, tender and slightly fatty.  RICE!  This should be served with rice...to absorb all that glistening rich sauce.  The hot mustard was a wonderful compliment to the fatty meat and I loved the spinach.  You can see for yourself how amazing it looks.

Here's my biteful...

Shin was so sweet and gave us a sampling of the home made bean curd sheets, made daily!  You could taste how fresh it was and there was this sweet, creamy texture to it.  It reminded me so much of when my mom used to make her own tofu back in the day when it wasn't readily available in the markets.  There is just the taste of fresh soybeans that is unmistakable.  It was so delicious.  

Our last item of the night from the "specials" board...Salisbury steak.
I know...you are thinking...wtf?!  Salisbury steak in a Japanese restaurant?  Well, yes...and it's not like the same stuff you used to get in the cafeteria when you were a kid. (but seriously, I loved the salisbury steak I ate when I was in elementary school...it was the BOMB!)  

It came out in this iron lidded pot, and we were not allowed to touch it for at least 3 minutes, one because the food inside was still "cooking", and two, because that thing would frickin' burn our hands if we tried!  It made me think of Kwai Chang Caine from Kung Fu and how little Grasshopper had to use his forearms to "grab" the hot metal cauldron and it burned the imprint of the dragon and tiger into his forearms.  Do you guys remember that show?!  Anyhow...we waited...and I refrained from re-enacting that moment from the show and laughed to myself as I did it mentally in my head.  haha  Yes, I amuse myself sometimes.

After much long waited anticipation, we tried to remove the lid ourselves...but it was still pretty damn hot!  So the waitress got a towel and removed it for us.  Thus revealing this gigantic round ball of meat smothered with a tomato based sauce and surrounded by enoki mushrooms and onions.  The sauce looked divine and though I was stuffed to the gills at this point...all I could think about was having either a hot bowl of steaming rice or creamy mashed potatoes to just slather with all the rich looking sauce.

This was one massive meatball!  We had a lovely couple, also chefs, Billie (a pastry chef and Jin, a chef who frequents Raku often) sitting next to us, and they didn't order the salibury steak, so we gave them a huge slab of it, basically like a third of it, and just smothered it with that beautiful sauce and lots of mushrooms and onions.  They really enjoyed it and Jin asked Chef Endo his method of making it.  Let me just say, this man takes so much time, care and love into what he prepares.  You may look at it and think it was simple to do, but the steps are many....and in the end...the result is pure joy in your mouth.

Chef Endo is so incredibly dedicated to what he does and the attention to detail he puts into the preparation and presentation of his food is so apparent.  I am so thankful we were able to get in, sit at the counter and witness him in action working with his crew and constantly overseeing the quality of beauty of his food as it goes out to each customer.

I would like to thank my friend Kevin again for telling me about Raku and this is definitely a "must return", over and over and over again. And I will always be sure to call for reservations.

If you're ever out in Vegas...go eat at Raku!  The have omakase (chef's choice - like a prix fixe) dinners as well, so make sure to ask about it when you call for your reservation.

Thank you Chef Mitsuo Endo for such a fabulous dining experience.


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