Food and Food: Las Vegas and Travels14 Apr 2010 09:33 am

(It took a while, but this is my last Vegas post from the trip in early March. In another month we’re back there again! Not sure how much food blogging that trip will garner though… -K.Z.)

For a long time, Italian was my favourite cuisine. In recent years, it’s really become Japanese food though. I’m not talking sushi or drive-thru restaurant rice bowls. I mean the good stuff: miniature octopi, pig ear, fish roe, dashi broth, tendon and above all, fresh noodles. It’s impossible to find in Edmonton, so I often save up my cravings for a mammoth meal when we get to Las Vegas. We chose to eat at Raku this past visit.

Raku, like Lotus of Siam, is a notoriously busy restaurant. I don’t know if there are any restaurants more buzzed about online in the Vegas food community than Raku, except perhaps Joel Robuchon’s Mansion. Odd, considering the two are at very opposite ends of the food spectrum. One is on Strip, the other off. One unearthly expensive, the other cheap (well, okay, maybe just affordable.) One French, the other Japanese. But they do share a very common thread: incredible cuisine.

Again, we arrived without a reservation (we’re terrible!) and were told we’d have 30 minutes to eat at the bar. If we were lucky. I was gung ho, but some members of our party were not. I thought we wouldn’t get another chance for some time to eat at Raku again, so we’d scarf and run. Turns out, they did find an actual table for us, and we took our time eating. All that worry for nought.

Aburiya Raku is a robata restaurant…mostly. It’s a dark cozy restaurant that appeals to a wide range of clientele. We saw a couple on a date, sharing a sake flight and Sapporo beers. A family with a child gobbling down chicken thighs on sticks. Businessmen, young, old; all brought here by the food.

Fresh tofu, green onions, dried onion and fresh ginger and dipping sauce

The menu takes some time to work through, and requires an imaginative mind. A plain sounding “tofu” belies what the dish actually is: fresh housemade tofu, creamy and sweet and salty and firm, lick-the-dish good. So, think outside the box and get something that might sound ordinary. Trust me, it will not be.

In addition to the menu the are, of course, nightly specials. These are brought round on a chalkboard. They threw our group into a tizzy and doubled our already substantial food order.

Kobe beef liver

Hell if I can remember. Roe of some kind, with tuna I think

Mackerel. Our server came over and deftly extracted the bones with just a set of chopsticks and a single carefully placed finger.

Pig ear: gelatinous, chewy and salty. The perfect savoury snack.

Baby octopi. I kind of felt guilty eating them, since they always grow up to be so cool and intelligent.

Raku is really fantastic. A wide selection of hot and cold dishes, from small to large, encompassing all palates and wallet sizes.

A sake flight. There are many to choose from, and they all come with detailed descriptions. As with the food specials, there is also a special sake flight selection that changes monthly.

Be warned that Raku only serves wine, beer and sake, not hard liquor like Ichiza just down the street.

Our problem was solved by hopping across Spring Mountain Road and going for dessert, more food and drinks at Ichiza after. I just had to have the honey toast…

Ichiza’s honey toast. On our last visit I saw this as we were leaving and had to pick my jaw up off the floor. It’s like a little bread fort, toasted, filled with ice cream and honey.

..and Evan just had to have the shochu.

Evan, pleased with his “mystery greens” shochu. Still no word on what the mystery green came from.

Both Raku and Ichiza are in the same vein, but with different execution. Ichiza does the lax party atmosphere well, with more pub food on the menu. After all, it IS an izakaya.

Raku is a bit more refined (in ambiance and decor), with simpler, yet tastier, dishes. I would never refuse either, but Raku is my personal favourite after trying both. It is also said to be the favourite of local chefs getting off work late as well.

It’s open until 3am every night but Sunday. Perfect for late night snackers.

Aburiya Raku
5030 Spring Mountain Road
Las Vegas, Nevada
Open 6pm to 3am every night, closed Sundays

Ichiza Izakaya
4355 Spring Mountain Road
Las Vegas, Nevada
Open for lunch noon to 2:30pm weekdays
Dinner 5pm to 3am every night

Reservations recommended for both, lest you be prepared to wait or be turned away.

3 Responses to “raku, las vegas”

  1. on 14 Apr 2010 at 4:31 pm H.Peter

    I am changing my future China flights from going through YVR to taking the new direct flight from Calgary to Tokyo before heading into Shanghai.

    The plan is to add a couple of nights layover and eat all the Sushi and other native cuisine I can handle.

  2. on 15 Apr 2010 at 12:23 pm kelly

    Direct flight to Tokyo from Calgary!?!? This is relevant to my interests. (so is eating in Tokyo :-))

  3. on 16 Apr 2010 at 7:35 am H.Peter