Agedashi Tofu at Raku in Las Vegas
I’m so glad that Corey and I ventured off the Las Vegas strip on our recent vacation to try Raku—an authentic Japanese restaurant located in the heart of Chinatown. That day we had completed an 11.6-mile hike in the blazing desert sun at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, and we were very tempted to lounge in our hotel room and get room service. But I knew I couldn’t pass up the chance to eat at Raku, especially after reading all the rave reviews.
Corey at Red Rock National Conservation Area
Upon entering the restaurant, we were greeted in Japanese and taken to our table. I was thrilled to see dishes on the menu that I didn’t recognize. Corey kept looking to me for guidance, since I worked in a Japanese steakhouse previously, and though I knew some items, many were a mystery. This is part of what I love about eating out: trying new things—unique flavor pairings, authentic dishes, creative culinary concoctions—or at least foods that I can’t easily replicate due to time constraints or unusual ingredients. And Raku didn’t disappoint!
Corey and I ordered crispy fried shrimp, agedashi tofu, and a sunomono salad to start. The menu didn’t have descriptions of the items, so I imagined the crispy fried shrimp would be similar to shrimp tempura—shrimp that have been battered and deep-fried. Instead, the waitress delivers these:
Crispy Fried Shrimp ($7.00)
As she put them down, she told us to eat them with their shells on, and to eat everything, including the head and tail. As she said this, Corey raised his eyebrow and looked at me with an expression like, “What did you get us into?”
Then he said, “You first.” As I picked up a shrimp, I thought of how I want to visit Japan and experience their culture and way of life; I’m sure I will be presented with much stranger things than this. I took a bite of the shrimp, and its taste surprised me. It was incredible–not at all chewy or tough, as I imagined the chitin would be. Indeed, the menu’s description, crispy fried shrimp, is amazingly accurate. It’s almost like eating a shrimp potato chip, except more substantial.
I picked up another and started to dig in. Meanwhile, Corey still needed convincing to eat the shells. After I had eaten about three, he decided to try one with the shell. And he was delighted by the taste as well (though I couldn’t convince him to eat the heads; maybe next time). We quickly devoured the remaining shrimp.
Sunomono Salad ($5.00)
Our next course was sunomono salad—a vinegary cucumber-and-seaweed salad with glass noodles (also known as cellophane noodles). The Japanese cucumbers were thinly sliced and marinated in rice vinegar, producing a tangy-sweet salad that was quite refreshing.
Agedashi Tofu ($11.00)
The next dish to come out was the agedashi tofu—a hot tofu dish served in broth made from dashi (fish stock), soy sauce, and mirin (a sweet Japanese cooking wine). The tofu is made fresh at the restaurant, and was the creamiest tofu I have ever tasted. I don’t often cook with tofu, because the texture doesn’t usually appeal to me; however, this tofu was unlike any other I have eaten, and it has inspired me to look into making my own!
The broth was rich and sweet. The tofu was served with ikura (salmon roe), thinly sliced nori, and a spicy sauce dripped down the side of the bowl. This was my favorite dish, and I typically prefer meat dishes–the tofu was just that good!
Following our appetizers, we ordered hot sake, Kobe beef filet with wasabi, duck with balsamic soy, udon noodles with a foie gras-egg custard soup, and Japanese shishito peppers.
When they brought us our sake, they carried over a box with a selection of unique sake glasses. We got to select whichever cup we preferred. I chose a clear glass with an asymmetrical red rim, and Corey selected a ceramic one that was wavy and white. They reminded me of the Zen concept of beauty in imperfection, because both were irregular in shape. In Japanese tea ceremonies, for instance, one is supposed to look at their cup and appreciate its imperfections.
Kobe Beef Filet with Wasabi ($12.00)
I had never had the luxury of eating Kobe beef before, although I’d heard wonderful reviews from my friends in Tallahassee who tried it. Kobe beef comes from a steer that has been massaged daily with sake and fed beer (pretty spoiled cows, if you ask me), and is produced in Kobe, Japan. If you’re interested in learning more about Kobe beef, click here.
Now I’m not 100 percent sure that the Kobe beef served at Raku was authentic, as the labeling of Kobe beef is not enforced in the U.S. as it is in Japan. Regardless, the meat at Raku was tender, and melted in your mouth like butter.
Duck with Balsamic Soy Reduction ($4.50)
The duck was seared on the edges and medium-rare in the center, and the sweet balsamic soy reduction paired nicely. It didn’t taste at all gamey or greasy, as duck sometimes does.
Udon Noodles with Foie Gras Egg Custard Soup ($18.50)
Corey was looking forward to the udon noodle dish all evening. Asian noodles are one of the foods that he loves most. He’ll eat bowl after bowl of them, and nearly every time we watch a Japanese movie and it shows noodles—as it inevitably does—we must pause the movie and take a noodle break.
The udon noodles were served cold in a bamboo basket, alongside the bowl of steaming hot egg custard and foie gras broth. The broth was amazing! Extremely decadent and so flavorful. The egg custard was sweet and creamy, the foie gras buttery, and the broth richly seductive.
Corey loved the taste of the dish but despaired at the quantity of noodles. There couldn’t have been more than 4 ounces of noodles. We even had a surplus of broth, which almost never happens. Given the price of the dish, and the extremely low cost of noodles, I would have to ding them for this oversight.
I forgot to take a picture, but you can click on this link to see Raku’s picture.
Japanese Shishito Peppers ($2.50)
We completed the dinner portion of the meal with Japanese shishito peppers. They’re small green peppers, thin and finger-like. They were served roasted or grilled and were very mild, similar in taste to grilled bell pepper.
I also forgot to take a picture of the peppers, but you can click on this link to see Raku’s picture.
Watermelon Sorbet ($5.00)
We finished the meal with watermelon sorbet. We could tell this sorbet was made in house; it burst with watermelon flavor. A truly refreshing way to end such a decadent meal!
If you’re in Las Vegas and want to splurge on dinner—and where better to splurge than Las Vegas?—try Raku. The portions are small, but each dish and every ingredient is cooked to perfection. It will delight your taste buds and expose you to some remarkable Japanese food. It’s a dining experience you won’t soon forget!