Sunday, November 8, 2009

Raku: Las Vegas

The Vegas restaurants on the Strip get almost of the attention and publicity. Yet there are hidden jewels that deserve far more attention than they receive. Yet you may never learn about those hidden treasures unless you have inside information.

I have dined at several Japanese restaurants in Vegas, including a few of the high-end ones. But when talking to a few Vegas residents, eager foodies, they mentioned an exceptional Japanese restaurant that was located off the strip. A small place but with very authentic and delicious food. Raku!

On Spring Mountain Road in Las Vegas, there is a lengthy section of Asian stores, businesses and restaurants. If you are seeking a restaurant, it can be intimidating because there are so many options, so many different cuisines. It seems like there must be dozens and dozens of Asian restaurants in this area. But which restaurants are the best? Raku is located in this region, and I can now attest that it has to be one of the best Japanese restaurants.

Raku (which literally translates as "enjoyment") is located on West Spring Mountain Road, in a strip of stores and other restaurants. There is nothing on the outside to distinguish it from the hundreds of other small Asian restaurants in this area. It is a place you either stumble into by a fortunate accident, or purposefully seek out based on someone's recommendation.

Raku is primarily a robata, charcoal grill, restaurant, using the special binchotan, a traditional Japanese charcoal. It burns at a higher temperature than regular charcoal, and also contains less moisture. Binchotan is supposed to produce excellent results. The restaurant aims to use high end ingredients, such as Kobe Beef from Oregon, free-range organic chicken from California, Kurobuta Pork from Iowa, and fish from the Tsukiji Market in Japan.

It is a small place, with a tiny counter, and if you try to go there on a weekend, you probably should make reservations. It emanates a casual and homey ambiance, a fun place to dine and drink.

Their food menu includes appetizers (cold & hot), salads, grilled items, oden, and rice/noodle/soup dishes. There is plenty of variety, and they usually have daily specials, which may include some sushi dishes and which concentrates on what is fresh and in season. Prices are generally very reasonable, such as most grilled items from $1.50-$9.00. This is not a place that is going to break your wallet, unless you go overboard ordering Saké (like I did).

I ordered a diverse selection of dishes, and essentially everything was delicious. The Juicy Deep Fried Chicken ($8) was very good, with moist, tender meat surrounded by a crisp, flaky crust. It was a very good start to the meal.

The Crispy Fried Shrimp ($6) were also very good, and you could actually eat the entire shrimp, shell, eyes and all. Kind of like soft shell crab. The shrimp were good-sized, with plenty of meat inside the shells.

I tried the Oden ($3) with a potato and boiled egg. Oden is a traditional Japanese winter dish, a soy-flavored sashi broth with a choice of added ingredients. On the menu, there are about fifteen different items you can select to add to your oden, everything from soft fish cake to meat tendon. The broth was delicious, very flavorful and light, and it certainly would help warm you on a cold night. The broth is not overpowering and I can understand how many different items could go into the broth and taste good.

The top dish above contains Pork Ear ($2.50), which might have been the dish I liked the least of the evening, though it had it good points. The outside of the pork ear was very good, crisp and meaty, but there was an inner layer of tough fat/gristle, which was just too chewy. I just ate around that part. The bottom dish above was grilled Unagi ($32), flown in fresh from Japan. This was a special of the evening (and I had not asked about its price before ordering). It was exceptional, light, flakey and very tasty. It sure seemed very fresh. It may have been pricey but you did receive plenty of eel, about enough for four orders of sushi.

The grilled Kobe Beef Outside Skirt with Garlic ($6) was very good, tender meat with lots of oungent garlic. A nice crisp exterior to the juicy meat but with all the garlic, let's hope you are not there on a first date.

I did not get photos of some of the additional dishes, as I was just too involved in the meal. The grilled Potato with Corn ($3), was a core of mashed potatoes surrounded by grilled corn kernels. A nice type of comfort food. Who doesn't like the flavor of roasted corn? The grilled Kurobuta Pork Cheek ($2.50) was superb, such a tender piece of crispy pork. The Grilled Duck with Balsamic Soy Sauce ($4) was another very tasty dish as was the Butter Sautéed Scallop with Soy Sauce ($7). Everything seemed so fresh, and the meats were cooked just perfectly. Moist and tender, with crispy exteriors.

Besides their compelling food menu, they also have an interesting Saké list. The list has Saké by the glass, small bottles, and regular-sized bottles. I ordered the Shichihonnyari Junmai (10oz bottle/$27), Isojiman Junmai Ginjo (glass/$14), and Tamanohikari Junmai Daiginjo (10 oz. bottle/$32). All were very pleasing, as well as very different. The bottles were kept chilled in a bucket of ice, a nice extra. I think they paired well with my dinner and I could have sat there all night, sipping Saké.

Service was excellent and the meal was served at a leisurely pace. Food was delicious as was the Saké. This was certainly one of the best Japanese meals I have had in Vegas, and I highly recommend this restaurant. It certainly deserves far more publicity than it receives, though that might make it far more difficult to get a reservation. I will return here the next time I visit Vegas.

5030 W.Spring Mountain Rd #2
Las Vegas, NV
Phone: 702-367-3511

Raku on Urbanspoon


Juka Ribeiro said...

Inviting pictures you got there. I would love to try there food. Thank you for sharing these information and pictures. Keep it up!

Attractive Las Vegas Hotel Deals

Anonymous said...

I just love Las Vegas restaurants because of its famous food selections. I always visited there just for great food. Thanks for sharing your restaurant opinions.