Friday, April 24, 2009


Had omakase at Raku in Las Vegas last night. Fantastic meal. While dishes came one after another, sometimes they came in clusters. Sometimes one dish was left to stand alone. This was one of the best meals I have had in a long time. It was fascinating to have this sort of rustic omakase at a tiny Japanese Charcoal Grill in a strip mall in Vegas and compare it in my mind to the refined omakase of Morimoto in his $10 million restaurant in Philadelphia. Earthy, smart, rich, balanced, interesting, humble, proud, and honest.

The run down:

Tofu Salad - home-made tofu, very delicate, with slices of plum tomato. topped with tiny dried fish. We were instructed to dress it ourselves with a green tea powder and house-made soy sauce. The texture of the tofu was delicate. Flavors subtle.

Asparagus Crispy Tempura - Asparagus spears dipped in Tempura batter then into crushed rice crackers and deep fried. Served at the same time as:

Potato With Corn - Wheels of corn on the cob but with the cob cut out and replaced by mashed potatoes. This was then lightly browned on both sides.

Fried Homemade Tofu in Hot Broth - What appeared to be and inverted dome of egg omelet was actually a raft of mashed, fried tofu in a smokey, rich broth. If I were told that there were ham hocks in the broth, I would have easily believed it. Except that no ham hock I ever cooked with gave that delicate of a smoke flavor. After pressing, I was told that the smoke came from the bonito flakes. I can feel the texture of the tofu as I portioned the raft with the ceramic soup spoon and the light crust split to give up the creamy center. Great textures. This was the first of three brothy courses.

Yari Ika ( Sweet Squid) - rolled large squid bodies, julienned, served with soy, wasabi, radish, finely grated fresh ginger. Favorite combo was the sweet squid with a bit of the ginger, a tiny bit of soy, and a slice of radish.

Kama Meshi (Salmon Rice) - Sushi rice brought to the table in a large bowl topped with ikura, crumbled cooked salmon, flecks of browned salmon shin, super-fine julienne of ginger and shiso. The server mixed it for us and spooned it into small bowls.

Negima-nabe (Bluefin Tuna with Tokyo Onion) - Cubes of bluefin tuna lightly poached in a dashi broth with half inch pieces of scallions. It was brought to the table in an earthenware pot over hot coals. The server quickly removed it from the fire after serving us because (she told us) it had cooked enough. The tuna was just cooked, not raw but barely cooked. I was lucky to get a stray cube of tuna that sat in the communal pot after each of us had been served. It was solid, normal poached tuna, a mute corpse of the angle of a few minutes before. Great to see the exactly perfect specimen and the barely-overdone-but-ruined model.

Poached egg with Sea Urchin and Salmon Roe - This was a cold dish. A barely poached chicken egg in a bit of liquid topped with ikura and uni. A study in cold richness, this was an opportunity to compare/contrast the three eggs.

Kobe Beef with Wasabi - Marinated cubes of Kobe beef filet skewered and grilled rare. A thin stream of fresh wasabi was drizzled on each skewer. The smoke of the grill (I was told the type of wood that was used there and promptly forgot) was light but present. The meat was super-tender and, of course, it's richness was well-balanced by the wasabi. This was served at the same time as:

Korobuta Pork Cheek - Small nuggets of pork, skewered and grilled and brushed with some marinade, were deliciously chewy. I wondered as they were served, what the texture would be. Would it be tender from long braising? Would it be chewy? It was the latter, but in a pleasant way. We chefs have grown accustomed to the long braise on our pig pieces these days and this intentional chewiness was a welcome reminder that we were eating meat, in fact, and maybe owed this pig a little effort, a little work, to appreciate his sacrifice.

Seaweed and Sea Urchin Soup - Another light but delicious broth, with tender cooked wakame and topped with pieces of uni. Reminded me of Japanese collard greens - soft cooked greens, richness of the roe standing in for the fatback, and the lightly salted broth like the collard pot juices.

Grilled Squid - A single large squid was grilled whole and chopped into large pieces. We were given a half a key lime, freshly grated ginger, and a little soy to garnish it. The squid was tender, but with a touch of intelligent chewiness like the pork cheek. This dish was the only dish that had any obvious use of acid and a flavor element.

Green Tea

The tiny bathroom with the ceiling of flowers and the recorded sounds of birds singing was one of many indications of the complete attention to comfort. Every dish was beautiful with excellent textures, the service staff was gracious, happy, and helpful.

Great meal.