Travels with a Gourmet

a food lover's travels, memorable meals, culinary trials and gastronomic experiences

Our last dinner reservation was a much-coveted table at Raku, a Las Vegas newcomer that managed to be an overnight sensation and a favourite for many top chefs living and working in Las Vegas. As we had already been to two other restaurants nominated in the 2009 James Beard awards (semi-finalists for best chef: Saipin Chutima from Lotus of Siam and Claude Le Tohic of Joel Robuchon at the Mansion), we were looking forward to ending our holiday with yet another James Beard semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant .

Raku is so far off-the-strip that it’s location is almost a secret. It’s hard to find and is in an ugly strip mall that it almost feels like we’re not in the right place. My sisters and my brother-in law have raved about Raku for months now and made sure that they booked a table way in advance so we could eat there before we left.

We arrive on time for our very early 6:30 reservation and walk in to an almost full restaurant where chef Mitsuo Endo, former head chef of NY’s Megu, stands behind the six-seater counter quietly preparing dishes so exquisite that it’s a shock to the system. As soon as plates are set down, they are admired then inhaled and gobbled up in about three seconds.
Sticking to a Megu-inspired menu, chef Endo does what he knows best – several hot and cold appetizers followed by a long list of robatayaki items (grilled meat, fish or vegetables on skewers) and then a few other specials sprinkled in. There are also several dishes on the blackboard. That evening there was blue fin tuna: grilled robatayaki style or sashimi, razor clams and a few other seafood treats plus a separate blackboard for sake specials and choice wines by the glass.

We started out with two orders of tofu agedashi – here it is freshly-made and served in one large chunk, instead of the usual three or four smaller cubes, topped with bonito flakes, thinly shredded seaweed and scallions and some salmon roe. It was soft, creamy and crispy all at the same time. We ended up ordering a third since the first two went so quickly.

This was followed by a the blue-fin tuna sashimi – four thin slices of super fresh tuna, again gobbled up so quickly that a second one was ordered immediately. Soy sauce is made in-house along and presented on a lovely wooden tray along with Japanese spices, vinegar and pepper.
We shared a cold soba noodle topped with a raw egg and mixed in with the warm broth – a perfect blend of hot soup and cold noodles. My son also had a miso soup filled with seaweed and fresh tofu cubes.

Next came stick after stick of robatayaki (total of about twenty skewers for 5 adults and two children) – chicken, kobe beef – one with wasabi and another with garlic chips, pork cheeks, chicken wing, duck and scallion, salmon, hamachi (yellowtail), bacon-wrapped asparagus, mushroom, and eggplant with miso and bonito. Each skewer simply grilled but since the ingredients were so special: Kurobota pork, Kobe beef, nothing else was needed. I guess we saved the best for last (or one of the best, hard to say with Robuchon also topping our list). Raku is one of those places that will become a mainstay on my favourites list an with the prices they charge, I could eat there at least once a month. If only I had more time for another dinner at Raku. Next time I’m in Vegas and the jetlag hits, I may head to Raku instead of breakfast.

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Raku

5030 W. Spring Mountain Road

Telephone: +1 702 367 3511
Open Monday-Saturday for dinner only: 6 p.m. to 3 a.m.

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