Sunday, October 27, 2013

1MB Travels: Vegas: Raku - What Happens In Vegas...

Every so often, I fantasize about being someone who treats rules as something to be broken.  The imagined freedom of being carefree, of doing what you want to do without the chains of obligation, fear, worry.  But thoughts of risk, consequence, damage - always rein me back in.  And then I realize I am someone who is sadly more often broken by rules, versus the other way around.

I guess that's why I have developed such a passion for food: it's an area that allows you to be adventurous, a risk-taker, but to do it all safely.  Within bounds.  Without consequence.  For the most part.  Call me a walking Lifetime special.

So it is, that when in Vegas, the kind of debauchery I allow myself to indulge in is not of the sort that would be fodder for a female version of Hangover - but more of the literally culinary kind.

The first time I ventured to famed and foodie-beloved Aburiya Raku, every moment felt like an adventure.  Everyone else wanted to stay on the strip, many within the hotel we were staying in - but thanks to gourmands who love to eat and share - I knew that amazingly tasty and affordable foods were to be found off strip.  And the 'getting there' would be much more exciting than walking downstairs to the nearest glitzy new restaurant downstream from the lobby.

I convinced a friend to go with me - and after an only-in-the-movies sort of cab ride where we were given a dissertation on the types of people who come to Vegas and exactly why they each make our driver angry - we arrived at the back corner of the non-descript strip mall, one amongst many in Chinatown, that Raku called home.

We pulled up to the bar, great for line of sight at what's happening in the kitchen and at the counter - and proceeded to drool over the blackboard and regular menus, packed with delicious sounding creatures of land and sea.  I remember laughing at my friend, who is over 6 feet tall, trying to find a comfortable place to put his legs at the bar built for smaller people.  I remember charcoal grilled wagyu, skewers of foie, and a blur of great conversation touching even on evolutionary psychology, punctuated by unctuous plates. I fell in love with Raku in that first visit - so much so that I didn't even take notes about the food - I was so in the moment enjoying it.

It was difficult to leave it behind and I wished we could have this experience back home.  Luckily, I was able to return on the next Vegas visit.  Here's the report on highlights from the meal: 
Poached Egg with Sea Urchin and Salmon Roe ($9) - this was egg-on-egg-on-egg action at its most luscious.  A perfectly poached egg, with its liquid sun yolk, connected all the other elements in the sea glass style bowl - creamy uni (sea urchin gonads), a food group in itself for me, brought its trademark funky flavor, while ikura (salmon roe) offered lovely bursts of brine, skillfully counterbalanced by the mild-mannered crunch of finely chopped white mountain yam, sweet juicy earthiness of adorable mini honshimeji mushrooms, and the clean crisp slices of raw okra. Perfection.  How is it possible that no one else thought to put these ingredients together before?!

Then of course, a trip outside of California is a wasted trip, if I do not get my fill of the now-banned foie gras. And with a fantastic robata grill, I had to get the Grilled Foie skewer.  There was a little too much sauce on it which made it a bit too sweet, but I was happy to get my hands on any amount or preparation of foie at all.
Then there was the famed Agedashi Tofu (half $7.50) - everyone's recommmended 'must get' dish at Raku.  It was pretty transcendent.  Not sure how they managed to keep the fried skin of the silky housemade tofu clean and crisp while soaked within the richly flavored, yet light and clear dashi (broth).  The baby mushrooms again make an appearance here and serve to add textural interest.
Spotting quickly another foie dish, again at a very reasonable price - I had to get the Steamed Foie Gras Egg Custard ($10).  I loved the soft, smooth texture of the chawanmushi (steamed egg custard), with the umami, earthy decadent flavors of foie striking the perfect balance between the two of levity and depth.  All topped by a rich, flavorful piece of duck.
I finished out the meal clean, with the Kanpachi Special ($12) off the blackboard.  It was one of the most beautiful, artful presentations of both the fish and the plate.  There wasn't any mind-blowingly unique pairings of ingredients here, but sometimes when the ingredients are pristine the best thing to do is not to mess with it too much, and just let nature be the star.  The presentation of course adds to the enjoyment of the dish though and they pulled that off perfectly here.

Although every time I leave Raku, I wish they could have a branch in LA - I realized that it's better that it stays in Vegas.  It's human nature to want what we can't have - and maybe its inaccessibility on an everyday basis is what helps it sustain that pedestal status in my mind.  Maybe it wouldn't feel or taste the same at all, if I had access to it in LA.  It definitely gives me something to look forward to next time I'm in town again - and perhaps will even be a reason for another visit.

Raku: I will be back for more shameless indulgence. Calories be damned. Til then, this is me, encapsulating you, into a beautiful memory.


5030 Spring Mountain Rd, Ste. 2, Las Vegas, NV 89146
Ph: 702.367.3511


Raku on Urbanspoon


  1. Reading this makes me cry - I miss Raku.

  2. Right? I'm so tempted to hop on the next flight right now...



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