I was most looking forward to dining at Aburiya Raku during my trip to Las Vegas. Was I excited about getting a comp room at the Encore? Watching Cirque du Soleil? Catching ladies night at the Olympic Garden? $3.99 Steak and Eggs at 3am? Nope! The positive praise from CHOW and some of my favorite bloggers made me excited like a bee was up my bum.
Raku recieved a mention from the New York Times and when I called at 9pm I was told to come in 45 mins. The restaurant is located a little further down Spring Mountain Road from the Strip. I was greeted by a large floor to roof banner and very sweet welcoming Japanese server. The restaurant is tiny, a small 5-8 seat bar by the chef and about 30 people dining room.
When seated the server immediately brought over the "Specials of the Day" board including Spiny Lobster, fish of the day, all without prices. Please ask because the Lobster was about $40 and only enough for 2. The wooden chopstick was perched on a rock that to me, look like a ash from the volcano. Really cool. The condiments were displayed like a part of a "Good Eats" show.
I was looking forward to the homemade tofu, Raku is the only restaurant in Las Vegas to make their own. I love soy in any form - fried, sauteed, in a milkshake, between two pieces of bread, steamed, you name it. The server recommended to slice the tofu in half, one side fried and the other steamed. The $10 tofu ($1 extra to do it both ways) served simply steamed with flakes, raw minced ginger, and green scallions. The server drew the condiment tray closer to eat with the tofu. The tofu was tight, spreadable like cream cheese, a bit gritty, and dense. The Fried Tofu was lightly fried in a semi sweet warm broth dotted with large fish roe. I think the heat made the tofu more smooth, a great texture combination.
The $18 Beef Tataki was recommended by the server and a Special, I should have asked about the price beforehand. The thinly sliced medium rare beef was topped with scallions, micro-paned root vegetable and a fried garlic. The garlic added a crunch and a strong flavor blast to the beef.
One of our first appetizer, $6 Seafood with Bonito Guts pickled in Salt, pieces of tuna, white fish, large fish roe, sea urchin and bonito guts; a kitchen sink sort of dish. The salty bonito guts dominated everything. After two bites it was hard to continue because of the salt level. I wish I did not eat the dish first because it distracted the pleasure of the other dishes.
Since we are all big fans of sea urchin, we proceeded to order everything on the menu listed with the ingredient. The $4 Sea Urchin and Seaweed with Soup paired welled with the similarities in "ocean" like taste. The $7 Poached Egg with Sea Urchin and Salmon Roe, served in a bland broth but a pop of the salmon roe added more flavor, although I did not detect more than a small bite of sea urchin.
The Robata items we ordered: $3 Kobe Beef Tendon, $2.50 Kurobuta Pork Cheeks, $6 Kobe Beef Outside Skirt with Garlic. The tendon was fantastic - gelatinous, sticky and devoid of stringy or hard pieces of tendon. The pork cheek had thin layers of fat sandwiched between the meat, a crackling bubbly crust from the robata. The outside skirt beef was tender like a filet mignon texture.
The $18 Halibut was also a Special and for 6 pieces I thought it was expensive compared to the other priced dish. I did know the price beforehand but expected at least 8 pieces. The sauce served with the fish was a like a hoisin sauce but more savory.
One of the most clean and light dish of the night was the $7.50 Grilled Rice Ball in Dashi Both topped with salmon. The crusty outer crust, soft rice, tepid dashi broth was a play on texture like no other. The salmon was also cooked and flavored perfectly as a condiment to the rice.
What drew me to Raku like a moth to a flame was the mention of foie gras in the reviews. The $9 Steamed Egg Custard Foie Gras topped with a piece of pork and a thin layer of glaze. The egg custard was a rich smooth savory version of a Chinese steamed egg custard.
The $15 Bite Size Foie Gras with rice, displayed in a ornate bowl with a lid. Although the foie gras label bite size it was still a nice sized piece. The foie gras and rice was smothered in a sticky sweet sauce, the sauce usually served with grilled unagi, really nice way to finish the rice. The foie gras did retain a small gaminess aftertaste.
The prices are very reasonable at Raku, I would stick to the menu as some of the Specials were expensive, the quality and taste comparable to Ichiza (also on Spring Mountain Road) at half the price. The unique dishes such as the tofu, kobe-items on the robata and foie gras dishes are worth a try.
The place is filled with tourists, like me and regular locals as some customers were greeted by first names and chatted about their last week's meal at Raku. The service is slow but the restaurant is catered to enjoy the food with drinks, meant to be drawn out to enjoy your company and food. The two servers were accommodating, soft spoken and nice. When we left, one of the waitress came out of the restaurant to personally thank us.
5030 Spring Mountain Road #2
Las Vegas, NV 89146
Open until 3am Mon-Sat