Last week, the Missus had some classes in Las Vegas. I hadn't been planning on going, but as the week progressed, things started getting more and more promising. I managed to get Friday off, Da' Boyz favorite "Uncle" agreed to watch them for a few days, and I had a tank full of gas(about as close to "It's 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses" as I'll ever come, I guess)..... Being a last minute trip, I had to plan our meals out. The Missus isn't a real fan of the crowded "strip", so I decided on a couple of places off the strip. It had been five years since I'd last been to Vegas, and six since I last drove up, so I was more than a bit interested to see what had changed.
The Missus had flown out the night before, so I had a solo drive. As soon as I finished work, I hit the road. And made it in pretty good time..... five-and-a-half hours. After meeting the Missus, and taking a quick shower, we drove to Aburiya Raku, where I had made dinner reservations. I was more than a bit excited about eating here. I'd read a few interesting articles, and had tucked away a Chowhound post from last year for "a rainy day". Being a aburiya, Raku closes at 3am, and apparently had made a name for itself, since names I recognized like Kerry Simon, Michael Mina, and Paul Bartolotta, and since I'm really not a "Chef Junky", names I didn't recognize like Rick Moonen and David Varley were sprinkled among the articles like magic dust.
The tiny restaurant(about 30 seats) itself is dark, classy, and dressed in the typical spartan, understated, Japanese manner. There's a small dining area, along with a "bar" area.
One more thing.....the restaurant is located on the Western edge of Spring Mountain Road, Las Vegas's Asian shopping and eating neighborhood. And of course, it is tucked in the far corner of a strip mall, to the left of, hidden from view by a smoke shop. The photo in my previous post is of one of the buildings in that strip mall.
Our main Server this evening was "Miki", who was a complete and utter joy. Friendly, helpful, funny, Miki had one thing in aces....perfect timing. She was always there with a refill of our tea, or to answer a question, but was unobtrusive.
Raku bills itself as an aburiya and robotayaki, a place for grilled items, but as you'll notice a bit later it is much more. So what is the difference between a Yakitori-ya, and a Robatayaki-ya? When someone asks, I tell them, "from my limited understanding, there is a sematical difference. Yakitori refers to grilled chicken (yaki-tori), whereas robatayaki refers to the entire gamut of grilled food."
The menu is pleasingly large, with a variety of dishes. In addition to the grilled items, there's a section of items in broth (Oden), and one of starches....but oh, what starches they were. In addition to the typical yaki-onigiri (grilled rice balls), there were some really interesting items.
There's also a chalkboard with specials of the day, and a pretty good Sake list as well.
As we went over the menu, the Missus noticed something. She pointed to the podium and asked, "is that their cookbook?" I turned....it was a copy of "The Complete Robuchon", a signed copy. I inquired, and found out that Joel Robuchon has been by a few times as well......
So on to the food. The Missus and I wanted to sample a good variety, so we ordered several items from the robatayaki menu.....and though most would order 2 orders or more, we did single orders so we could sample a good range of items.
We started from the "Oden menu", with Uni Oden ($4):
Several pieces of freshly cracked uni on a bed of wakame in a dashi based broth. The subtle, balanced flavors were excellent. The uni was sweet, rich, and custard-like. The wakame added texture, and the wonderful umami. The broth was savory, yet refreshing. If you could think of the taste of the ocean......
The Missus wanted to order the Sashimi Salad($9). I had reservations about ordering fish at a robatayaki, but we ordered it anyway.
The parts of the salad were wonderful; crisp baby spinach, crisp fried potato, and wonderful salmon(though the maguro was, meh). But when put together with an overly salty ponzu like dressing and drizzled with a spicy mayo, like you'd find on a spicy tuna roll, this wasn't very pleasant. This was my least favorite dish of the night.
Grilled Lamb Chop($5):
Miki thoughfully delivered a knife, since it was a single chop for two. This was a bit past where I'd have wanted the chop to be with regards to doneness. It was moist, but slightly tougher than I'd have desired. Also, the Missus noticed that the sweetness of the "tare" (sauce) detracted from the flavor of the lamb.
Chicken Wing (Tebasaki - $1.50):
There's a simple equation which makes amazing things happen. The presence of a chicken wing seasoned with good quality salt, grilled over Binchōtan, is simply wonderful. And this did not disappoint. It was moist, the wonderful flavor of the salt and chicken, with the smokey flavor of bincho-charcoal came through. The wing was cooked to perfection, bursting with flavor and juices. The skin was a work of art. I wanted to order 15 more.
The next item was recommended by Miki; corn stuffed with potato ($2.50):
We're still talking about this seemingly simple dish. The excellent quality corn's cob has been replaced by mashed potato. The corn, which I believe was already sweet, was made exceedingly so by grilling which developed all the sugars. Think of it as the "heart of a potato and corn croquette."
Grilled Duck with Soy and Balsamic Vinegar($4):
This was excellent. We were worried that this would turn out to be too sweet, but it was not. The grilled duck breast had hints of the smokey bincho flavor and was moist. There was a decent amount of fat, and the scallions helped to cut the richness of the dish. The Missus even forgot Her, "all duck should have five spice flavor" rule for a moment.
Eringe Mushroom ($3):
Earthy and woodsy, with the addition of salt, and a smokey flavor. This had a nice meaty texture.
Kobe Skirt with Garlic($6):
This was tougher than expected, and I'd have wanted more of the beefy flavor that beef skirt has to come through a bit more. Loved the fried garlic.
Chicken Breast wrapped in Skin($2.50):
Great quality chicken breast meat, cooked to perfection, wrapped in it's grilled to bacon-est skin. Having the three qualities that most chicken breast lacks, moistness, tenderness, and great flavor. Man this was good........
And yet, if you think this was good, wait till part 2! Foie Gras Chawanmushi anyone?
Part 2 of this post can be found here.