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Chow Bella Road Trip: 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.)

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.

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.

 

 

 

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
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
Sashimi salad with tuna, salmon, spicy dressing and crispy shallots on top of baby spinach
Sashimi salad with tuna, salmon, spicy dressing and crispy shallots on top of baby spinach
Amazing fried asparagus -- so tender, with a light, crunchy coating
Amazing fried asparagus -- so tender, with a light, crunchy coating
Grilled chicken with wonderful crispy skin (the skin really makes it)
Grilled chicken with wonderful crispy skin (the skin really makes it)
Grilled chunks of Kurobuta. Juicy meat plus succulent fat equals damn tasty.
Grilled chunks of Kurobuta. Juicy meat plus succulent fat equals damn tasty.
Unforgettable eringi mushrooms. Crosshatched and buttery on top, creamy shroom texture inside, smoky grilled flavor.
Unforgettable eringi mushrooms. Crosshatched and buttery on top, creamy shroom texture inside, smoky grilled flavor.
Cherry stone clams boiled in sake -- should've taken a video, they were bubbling so vigorously! Best broth ever.
Cherry stone clams boiled in sake -- should've taken a video, they were bubbling so vigorously! Best broth ever.
Ridiculously moist tsukune (chicken meatballs) flavored with bits of fresh shiso leaf
Ridiculously moist tsukune (chicken meatballs) flavored with bits of fresh shiso leaf
Chow Bella Road Trip: Raku

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