Chow Bella Road Trip: Raku

Categories: Chow Bella

raku counter.jpg
The tiny counter at Raku
I don't get people who hate Las Vegas. What's not to love about a city devoted to modern-day Roman-style excess, with interesting restaurants at every turn? I just got back from a long weekend there, and I can't think of any better destination to take you far away from the daily b.s. in a short amount of time.

I love the fantasy of it, the sheer variety of foods, the way you can stroll through a casino and browse fine-dining menus as if you were window shopping. (And then there's the actual window shopping -- knocking back a few cocktails and pondering the python handbags at Prada.)

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Grilled Kobe beef skewers -- one soy flavored, one soy-garlic
Of course, I don't like to leave everything up to chance -- researching and planning a trip (especially the dinners!) is one of my all-time favorite pastimes. Dinner number one turned out to be the easiest place to choose, as the restaurant Raku was recently listed along with Phoenix fave NOCA as a national semifinalist for the James Beard "Best New Restaurant" award.

I had a blast at Raku (5030 W. Spring Mtn. Rd., 702-367-3511), a tiny strip mall joint located on a stretch of road dominated by Asian businesses, with plenty of Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and Vietnamese spots along the way. It's not on the Strip, which says a lot about the down-to-earth vibe here --cheerful and about as authentically Japanese as anything you'll find in the States. There are only about 7 tables, with a few more seats at the counter. For that reason alone, reservations are a must. And get this: they're open 'til 3 a.m.

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Awesome, creamy foie gras chawan mushi (custard) with a juicy piece of seared duck on top

This is a real Japanese izakaya -- a tavern, basically, with lots of shareable dishes. I deliberated over the lengthy sake menu for a few minutes, then decided on a flight of three very good featured sakes. After that, I ordered food in a few installments, just to make sure I didn't go overboard (I always order way too much food at these kinds of places). 

It was a great experience -- reasonably priced and so tasty. Can't wait to go back! I've posted a lot more photos after the jump.

 

 

 
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Agedashi dofu -- Raku's homemade tofu, lightly fried, in savory dashi broth, with scallions, shredded nori, salmon roe, and a dab of homemade kanzuri paste
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Sashimi salad with tuna, salmon, spicy dressing and crispy shallots on top of baby spinach
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Amazing fried asparagus -- so tender, with a light, crunchy coating
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Grilled chicken with wonderful crispy skin (the skin really makes it)
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Grilled chunks of Kurobuta. Juicy meat plus succulent fat equals damn tasty.
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Unforgettable eringi mushrooms. Crosshatched and buttery on top, creamy shroom texture inside, smoky grilled flavor.
Thumbnail image for raku clams.jpg
Cherry stone clams boiled in sake -- should've taken a video, they were bubbling so vigorously! Best broth ever.
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Ridiculously moist tsukune (chicken meatballs) flavored with bits of fresh shiso leaf
raku pudding.jpg
Brown sugar pudding topped with milky foam -- so good I drank last of it from the bowl


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