For years Las Vegas was known for cheap buffets, steak dinners and shrimp cocktail. However, during the last decade the food scene changed and focus shifted, loss leaders were no longer the major draw. Instead, top chefs, celebrity and otherwise, recognized opportunities and opened restaurants here. They’ve brought creativity and the freshest ingredients from all over the world to the desert. Las Vegas might be a gaming destination first and foremost, but it has indeed become a dining destination, as well. It has developed into a foodies’ haven.
One such example is Raku, it is a must stop for any foodie or adventurous eater, only this gem is not found on the strip. This tiny Japanese grill (aburiya) is west of the strip, tucked away in a shopping center on Spring Mountain. This seven table restaurant is the brainchild of Chef Mitsuo Endo. He trained in Japan and then followed his dreams by moving to the United States in 2001. He had great success at Megu in New York City before landing in Las Vegas, and opening Aburiya Raku. It quickly became a favorite of area chefs, visitors and locals. It celebrated its first anniversary last summer, and it continues to be a great success.
Reservations are strongly suggested, with only 31 seats available they fill quickly. The hostess will greet you, lead you to your table and discuss the daily specials. Then, you’re left to gaze over the sake list and wide menu.
Just don’t come looking for sushi because you won’t find it. Instead, you find culinary treats such as poached egg with sea urchin and salmon roe, pork ear, and fish sausage. If that doesn’t strike you, there are conventional choices like fried shrimp, chicken or Kobe filet. Most selections range $2-$8. The foie gras and Kobe are priced slightly higher, but no more than fifteen bucks per dish.
Ingredients are carefully chosen, meats are shipped from Oregon, California and Iowa, and fish is flown in from Tsukiii, Japan. Furthermore, all condiments are imported from Japan. Chef Endo uses 5 different kinds of soy sauce and the table sauce is a blend of them all. Their salt is even special, it is a combination of konbu seaweed, dried shiitake and maccha green tea. It’s unusual for me to enjoy salt, but this one is fantastic. Don’t overlook it.
On our recent visit my brother-in-law joined us. He lived in Japan for a couple years so he was particularly eager to give Raku a try. He was not disappointed; he claimed he hasn’t had dishes this good since leaving Japan. Service was relaxed, dishes were delivered timely we had just enough time to enjoy one before the next was brought out. Our meal was made up of a variety of dishes. It’s wonderful that the menu allows you to customize a meal to fit your appetite. Similar to tapas, each dish is a smaller portion so it’s great to share, try something new or sample a wide variety. Additionally, the sake list offers selections by the glass, and in both, small bottles, and regular-sized bottles.
We particularly enjoyed the house made tofu, miso soup, bacon wrapped asparagus, grilled rice ball, potato with corn and the chicken and egg bowl. The enoki mushroom wrapped in bacon was a rare treat. We thought the duck with balsamic soy sauce and the Kurabota pork cheek were the weakest links of our meal. They both had crisp skin from being grilled which was nice, but each was also dry and chewy.
It seems odd to point out, but one last thing worth a mention is the bathroom. It is whimsy, functional and very clean.
Raku is located at 5030 W. Spring Mountain Rd #2, Las Vegas, NV 89146. It is open Monday-Saturday 6pm-3am, and closed Sundays.