Red Sea Breem (Renko Dai) – Sashimi with pickled chrysanthemum, glass noodles, crispy skin
Juicy Deep Fried Asajimie Chicken with Spinach and Yuzu
Crispy Pig’s Ear
Kurobuta Pork Belly in Broth with Braised Greens
1/2 Agadashi Tofu with Ikura, Mushroom Dashi
Yellowtail Belly with Ponzu and Daikon
Red Sea Breem (Renko Dai) – Fried, in Mushroom Dashi
Steamed Foie Gras Egg Custard
Apple Cider Lamb Chop
Duck with Balsamic Soy
Green Tea Soba with Poached Egg
Not visited since 2009, when visiting as a tourist and unadvisedly walking from-and-back-to The Strip, it was finally at the close of 2014 that a return visit to Raku was planned and although three visits to its Sweets sister just down the way have proven universally stellar over the past 18 months a walk-in seat in one of the expanded private rooms proved a slightly less than ideal experience, the service almost non-existent for the first fourty-five minutes while a few of the plates lacked the luster some would suggest overrides every single thing on Mitsuo Endo’s somewhat stagnant menu.
Undoubtedly the most upscale Izakaya…or Aburiya…in a city where the genre has expanded substantially since Raku opened its doors it was in a small line that our party stood until the door was unlocked at six o’clock and inquiring as to whether reservations were full it was explained that a four-top was available, provided an exit by 7:30 when the next party was due…our much delayed order assuring an exit closer to 8:45, a time in which no less than three similar tables still sat empty leading one to wonder why the bar area was still jam packed.
Featuring perhaps fifty plates familiar from a visit five years prior, plus seven chalkboard specials from which the Sea Breem duo was selected, it was just after 7:50 when our fist bites hit the table and with silky fish set against bites of wood-fired skin plus an assortment of accoutrements the flavor profile was delicate and nuanced, the follow-up fried chicken exactly the opposite with an overhead smash of flavor beneath light tempura as a light salad beneath served as an admirable foil to the of the bird.
nward to pork, first crispy ear and then supple belly, suffice it to say that both were quite tasty though somewhat unremarkable in a world where both are frequently offered on all sorts of menus but moving onward to the restaurant’s signature tofu I will admit that their suggestion of it being the ‘best’ is not at all hyperbole, the light tempura overlying an airy omelet bathed in dashi singlehandedly reinventing an ingredient generally nowhere near as enthralling as bursting salmon roe and wakami added texture and brine.
At this point treated to a fried fish duo in which the yellowtail belly proved a bit dried out and a step in the wrong direction from simply doing it raw it was undoubtedly the second half of the aforementioned breem that stole the show and served in the same broth as the tofu with everything from skin to bones edible quick work was made of the bowl, the follow-up chawanmushi topped with foie gras another umami-laden dish slightly compromised in texture by overcooked liver, though the custard itself was divine.
Rounding out the meal with three grilled items, the lamb chop and pork cheek intense with wood and smoke while the duck got lost in the soy, plus a bowl of chilled soba draped in a perfectly poached egg it was only here that the table was informed that the uni dish ordered could not be prepared because the restaurant was ‘out of urchin’ and opting against desserts as only cheesecake, crème brûlée, and sorbet were offered it was with tea that the night came to a close – the $66 per person tab an admitted deal compared to strip prices, though the overall experience failed to meet the highs offered by some of Las Vegas Boulevard’s bests, a bit of a change from 2009 no matter what some may say of the emergence of Spring Mountain Road.
FOUR STARS: Perhaps an effect of having now eaten at some of the world’s best, including places like SAISON where pristine ingredients cooked over an open flame have taken on a whole new degree of creativity and skill, there is little doubt that those visiting Raku are guaranteed to have a good meal yet with so little change on the menu in a city where evolution is the rule it will be some time before I find myself rushing back…at least not until a few more Izakaya are visited to see if there is a more impressive experience to be found.
RECOMMENDED: Green Tea Soba with Poached Egg, Pork Cheek, Agadashi Tofu, Foie Gras Custard.
AVOID: Duck, Cooked Yellowtail Belly.
TIP: Those looking to score a guaranteed seat at Raku are advised to call at least 2 weeks in advance for Friday or Saturday reservations and although the restaurant itself is closed on Sundays the Sweets Shop is open for brunch at noon, a visit just months ago showing the ever evolving menu at the later to be far more interesting than that at the flagship, though a prominent sweet tooth and penchant for foie gras as a terrine may have something to do with the perception of such things.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor