Raku Las Vegas

by janet on February 11th, 2010

When two foodies get together it’s ON.  When there are THREE together, well, everyone go get your portable mini-fans because there will be overheating, heavy breathing, and sweat.  When there are three PLUS a Dita von Teese lookalike who will make the rest of you look glamorous by her mere presence, well, that’s just beyond reasonable limits of outrageousness.

Our gang of four (me, Liz, Dita, and LL who got me, once, a T-shirt from Musha so you KNOW he’s legit), recently reunited in Las Vegas for a conference after half a year apart, celebrated our cheer by going to Raku.  God, that place is an oasis in that nasty, glitzy, dusty, spermy 89119.  It isn’t on the strip, but instead tucked in corner of a shopping center in the Asianey district of Vegas.

I have never seen such a Yelp-approved resto, in any city I’ve been to.  We began our happy dinner with a flight of sake.  Liz was reticent re: the nigori sake, but soon was contentedly slugging it back (told you!) and asking me the correct pronunciation of “sake.”  Technically, it is, phonetically, “saw-kay” instead of “socky,” but I understand very well how annoying it is, when, for example, someone will be speaking perfectly unaccented Nebraskan English and then shout “TAMA-LAY!” midsentence when discussing tamales.  So I bid her leave to call it socky and also to say carry-okie too.

I’ve been procrastinating on this post because I have been trying to find adequate words to describe this tofu.  Official title: Raku’s Tofu, and you know something that bears the restaurant’s name must be good.  Oh, I wasn’t prepared, though – I wasn’t prepared!  For god’s sake, it’s just tofu!  But how could this be tofu?  This was a silken jelly of the deities.  The pattern you see is what was left behind by the half-moon basket that the tofu was made in.  It was not salty, but covered the back of your tongue and lingered intoxicatingly.  It was smooth and creamy but not in a mashed potato way but instead a slippery way, and dissolved in an achingly thrilling manner, like a bite of a room-temperature snowball.

I’m rambling and slightly incoherent.  This tofu didn’t even need condiments, but I just had to try one of their many very special accoutrements like this green salt that had seven different ingredients in it (including salt shipped from Okinawa – how’s that for not eating local?) and was made in-house.  They also had in-house soy sauce that took our server two verbal paragraphs just to describe how special it was.  Impressive.

Above was another melting eye-opener  – hamachi (yellowtail) carpaccio.  What in flippin hell was that sauce?  It was a ponzu-ish sauce but very pleasingly cloudy.  Just one lustrous bite of this sleek and oily fish turned us all instantly into enemies.  After all, six portions is not gracefully divisible by four.

Luckily, it was easy to get distracted as the food kept coming rapidly.  Raku’s full name is Abriya Raku, which is a bastardized spelling of aburiya, which means grill – meaning, specifically, grilled over charcoal.  So its specialties I think lie in the robata grill items.  Above are shishito peppers from the robata, described as “green hot chile pepper” but is always zero percent hot in my experience.  Just a dribble of the special soy sauce (watch the bonito flakes move and curl as if aliiiiive) and down the gullet it went.

Oh, make sure you discard yer stick things into the special made-for-it skewer holder.  Everything in its place and a place for everything.

Pictured above was one of the major triumphs of the night.  The unassumingly-named soba noodle salad, the dish was a “more than the sum of its parts” type ordeal, with tonburi (aka land/mountain/field caviar), thinly sliced daikon, fun streamers of nori, ginger, and one of those sauces that call to you, siren-like, to pick up the huge (not to mention communal) bowl and tip it into your mouth.

Another soaring note was the butter sauteed scallop with soy sauce, pictured top.  Each of the four of us got our own too-pretty-to-be-hidden-by-a-scallop-shell dish that was hidden by a scallop shell, and that contained a buttery briney liquid that lovingly surrounded a grilled scallop.  Some members of our party had to put their chopsticks down and say “Oh.”  I could have had a meelyon of these.  I think I even said that, just like that.

Also from the grill – enoki mushrooms wrapped in bacon.  Enoki is like natto – I understand how it is Fear Factor-esque, both in looks (tentacley!) and in mouth-feel (chew forever and you still feel like you can’t swallow without choking) but to me (also like natto) it is like drugs.  Wrap it in bacon and you have (also in taste and looks) an umami-filled mini-volcano eruption.

Yelpers insisted that we order the fluffy cheesecake.  I see why.  It was very foodie-cool.  The bottom was a soggy (in a toe-curlingly delicious way) graham cracker type substance – a very thin layer; perhaps a fourth of a centimeter tall.  On the other end – the top – was a frond of fennel!  Surprising and cheerful!  The cake itself is difficult to describe.  Fluffy is a good start.  I look at this picture and I am perplexed as to how that fluffiness is even holding up those heavy raspberry fourths.  All of it was exactly zero sweet.  Maybe the raz sauce, but otherwise, this “cake” was more tart and salty than anything else.  Naturally, I hoovered that shit.

Wow.  I am re-reading this post (YES I proofread these, shoot) and it’s rather…oleaginous.  I will stop here.  But reading this, you must be relieved that you finally have somewhere to eat in Vegas that isn’t cheesy or expensive, no?  Not to mention smashingly tasty.

OK.  I’ll stop.

Abriya Raku

5030 W.Spring Mountain Rd #2,Las Vegas, NV 89146



2 Responses to “Raku Las Vegas”

  1. Choco says:

    Boarding my flight this afternoon, I ran into a friend (the one behind the desk at the book signing where I first met you) who was also heading to Austin. We landed in Vegas at 6pm with a two hour layover, faced with the prospect of Popeyes or Pizza Hut for dinner in the airport. I remembered reading this blog entry, so we cabbed to Raku and managed to get back through security in time to catch the second leg. The hostess was super helpful getting us our food quickly, and calling a taxi for us.

    It was so awesome! Thanks Janet! In case there is any doubt about your blog, I can testify that it is influential and transformative.

  2. janet says:

    I think this is the first time that this has happened. Janet = warm & fuzzy & feeling like a real blogger.

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