I came across Raku from Andrew Zimmern. I was watching a random Youtube video about Las Vegas eats, and Mr. Zimmern swears Raku as an anti-Vegas destination with some of the best Japanese food around. I immediately dropped everything and headed off the strip. Raku, located in a dismal looking strip mall in Las Vegas’ very own Chinatown, concentrates on good quality Japanese cuisine. More of a Japanese “tapas” bar, most of their items are shared amongst the table. Most people associate Japanese cuisine with sushi. Chef and owner, Mitsuo Endo showcases a menu with Japanese cuisine as an all-inclusive whole. There is no sushi on the menu, though there is raw fish and sashimi. Everything is masterfully prepared and they use only the best ingredients.
We started things off with the uni soup. This was a simple dish that was so refreshing. The broth was soy sauce based and had a subtle seafood essence. Filled with seaweed and a few slivers of uni, it was an interesting soup. The uni was flavorful and mellow — the warm soup made it more toned down and silky. I don’t it that is a good thing, but it was delicious. This was a great start to an awesome late night eat.
We ordered the pork belly to feed the carnivore within. It wasn’t necessarily special. The quality and bite of the pork belly was a lot better though. Most places will just put some thinly sliced pork belly on a stick, grill it and call it day. Raku’s was thicker, and more meaty. All in all, it was a deliciously cooked yakitori — no sauce needed.
Some of the best things I have ever eaten was Raku’s Agedashi Tofu. It is probably the best tofu I ever had. Some sad days, I would be home alone. I’d open up a tub of tofu, microwave it, make some kind of soy sauce concoction, and pour it over the tofu. For what it was, it was tasty and I was happy. This agedashi tofu really changed my life. The tofu is made daily, in house. The fried exterior had a little crispiness with a hint of chewiness. Inside, it was completely different — smooth and silky, and custard like. The broth in itself makes this dish so good. I don’t know what was in it, but soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and dashi was definitely in the mix. There was a smudge of red pepper puree on the bowl for a bit of spice. Topped with ikira (salmon roe), scallions, and nori, the tofu dish was complex, yet perfectly balanced.
We ended things with one of my favorite chicken dishes of all time. The juicy deep fried chicken, as they call it, was exactly what the name suggests — It was juicy. It was deep fried, and it’s…chicken. The thigh meat is rolled up skin on, battered, and then fried. The roll is cut up into slices and then served on some vinaigrette dressed spinach. The vinaigrette on the spinach helped with the fatty chicken. As the picture shows, the chicken is a bit pink in the center — might be a little alarming for sensitive types. For me though, the chicken was so juicy and flavorful — probably achieved from this near “medium well” cooking. It was an exceptional dish in both flavor and texture.
If you want to eat at Raku, make reservations. I was given the stink eye when I walked in and said I didn’t have reservations. Luckily, I was seated within 10 minutes as long as we ate “quickly.” Most likely, that won’t happen to you unless you make a reservation for this small 48 seater restaurant. I was very impressed with the food at Raku. The ingredients are of the highest quality and simply prepared. Even the water is treated with respect, filtered with a giant charcoal log. Details like this, with a passion for perfection makes Raku very special. It’s not just some Japanese restaurant off the strip. It’s possibly one of the best in the country.