Fantastic Japanese Tapas (Izakaya) hits West Hollywood - Aburiya RAKU - pictures


#1

Saw the Eater article and then numerous mentions months ago about some “famous Vegas Japanese izakaya” coming to L.A. I had never heard of “Aburiya Raku” before, nor its chef-owner Mitsuo Endo. I guess this famous izakaya from Las Vegas of all places, was going to land in sunny Los Angeles, and “deign” us with its presence. At least that’s what the vibe felt like from so many articles / posts pre-opening.

Like @CiaoBob, I was skeptical. But @PorkyBelly, @Ns1, @chrishei and others chimed in saying this place was legit. So a few days ago, I took the plunge. I went in extremely skeptical that some Las Vegas transplant was going to bring anything close to real, authentic Japanese izakaya (I guess… Japanese tapas / small plates) cuisine to West Hollywood of all places.

After a full night of eating at Raku…

Color me wrong. Very wrong. :wink:

Walking in, you can see a it’s cozy but very clean spot, with nice wood paneling and a rather impressive wall of Sake.

Izakayas (and in this case an “Aburiya” (which is a place that Raku themselves describe as a “Charcoal House”)) are known for a variety of small plates to go along with Japanese alcoholic drinks like Sake, Beer, Shochu, etc. When the waitress dropped the hefty menu and a 2 sided thin sheet, we soon realized the hefty menu was their Sake Menu, which was like 3 or 4 times as long as their Dinner Menu! LOLOL :laughing: This place seemed serious and legit, with impressive notes for all of the Sake they offer.

Amuse-bouche: Bluefin Tuna with another type of fish (waiter said it in a hurry and left), so we didn’t catch the name:

The tuna was tasty and soft, but nothing amazing.

Poached Egg with Sea Urchin and Salmon Roe:

I was really looking forward to this since it sounded like a home run on paper. Sadly, it was rather pedestrian: The poached egg was overcooked, so it was only barely runny (yolk had started to form / get solid). The uni tasted off (really fishy), and the salmon roe was the only highlight. :frowning: Not a good start.

Then, one of the nightly specials: Kanpachi (Amberjack) Sashimi flown in from Kyushu, Japan.

I don’t remember why I let my friend talk me into ordering sashimi at an izakaya, after all, many standard izakaya are not known for their sushi / sashimi. I was prepared for awful.

Yet, when the dish arrived, the gorgeous plating, and the preparation with micro shisho and fresh-grated wasabi made me take notice. Chowing down… O M G! Are you friggin’ kidding me?!

This is like the most LEGIT Kanpachi I’ve had this year so far! Even better than the Kanpachi I had at Shunji’s I kid you not. :open_mouth: Supple, buttery, perfectly cut, with no perceptible defects (like fish sinewy parts etc.). Fresh and bright! Holy Cow! One of the highlights of the evening! :heart:

Popeye Salad (Spinach Salad with Sauteed Mushrooms, Bacon, Cashew Nuts):

Simple, but so good! Sauteed Mushrooms with Bacon gave the salad this luxurious taste which mighta nullified the healthy aspects of this dish LOL :stuck_out_tongue: But very tasty!

Asajime Chicken Breast wrapped with Chicken Skin:

The waitress mentioned their “Asajime chicken” were local free-range chickens dispatched the same day, every day, for the freshest taste possible. Add to that they actually use Binchotan (Japanese Charcoal) flown in from Japan, and it all spells a recipe for high-quality Yakitori skewers.

Thanks to all the recommendations on our old CH board, I discovered recommended places like Izakaya Bincho, Torihei, etc. They’re my gold standard, and I’d have to say, Raku’s Chicken Breast Yakitori is GREAT. :smile:

Just flat out moist and juicy and with a good smoky quality. I think only Izakaya Bincho (RIP) had been using Binchotan from Japan with our local yakitori joints.

Asajime Chicken Thigh:

Also very good.

Almost forgot: We decided to try Kikusui Perfect Snow (Niigata, Japan):

The waitress let us pick our own Sake cups. Wow look at this presentation! Cute, classy, fun.

Regular Kikusui is safe and fine. Nothing spectacular, but something pretty safe and just fine to drink if you can’t think of anything else. Their Perfect Snow Nigori is smooth, chill and satisfying. :smile:

Duck with Balsamic Soy Sauce:

Never had Duck yakitori at any local joints before. Juicy, spot-on. Legit.

Tsukune-Grilled Asajime Ground Chicken:

Tsukune is normally a meatball, but Raku’s version is a meat stick! LOLOL :laughing: I guess like some funky alternate universe version of Hot Dog On A Stick, if it was super delicious and made with organic, free-range chicken and Japanese Basil? :stuck_out_tongue:

Holy cow was this good! :slight_smile: It’s super tender and soft. I dig Torihei’s version more, but this one was excellent as well.

Pork Intestine:

Paging @theoffalo. :smile: Crispy sear on the outside, tender juicy and funky on the inside.

Kobe Beef Tendon (from Oregon):

Wow! Soft, gelatinous, with a partial sear for crispiness on the outside. So good!

Juicy Deep-Fried Asajime Chicken:

Surmised that this must be their version of “Kara-age” (Japanese Fried Chicken). I love me some Torihei Kara-age, but Raku’s version has it beat. Clean fresh chicken with this deep real “chicken-y” taste; don’t know how else to describe it. I’ll leave that to @porthos, @J_L_ and the expert wordsmiths. :wink:

Kurobuta Pork Belly:

I also love the traditional Buta No Kakunin, and Raku’s version is so tender, stew-like Pork Belly. But the one knock was that it was just too fatty for my tastes. I liked the CH favorite Bincho better.

Agedashi Tofu:

LEGIT! Crispy Tofu outside (just barely) and soft tender tofu inside. Lovely. Probably the 2nd best Agedashi I’ve had in L.A. Bincho was definitely better.

Pig Ears:

Pig Ears are pretty rare at Yakitoriyas. Raku’s version is crisped and tender still. Waitress recommended pairing it with a dash of their Koregusu (Okinawan chilies with a 3 year old mirin and akazake). Perfect! :smile:

Tomato Bacon:

This was OK. Serviceable.

Asajime Teba Chicken Wing:

Juicy, fantastic.

Kobe Beef Outside Skirt Steak with Garlic:

This was a bit overcooked. Slightly chewy, but otherwise, it had a great beefy flavor.

Steamed Foie Gras Egg Custard:

Had to get this after @Ns1’s recommendation. Wow, wow, wow! Ns1! No joke! You were right.

This is like buttery, super fragrant, silky Chawan Mushi (Steamed Egg Custard) with the Foie Gras mixed into the custard itself. Seriously DELISH! :heart:

Cold Green Tea Soba with Poached Egg:

Sadly the final dish of the night ended on a bad note: The Soba was pedestrian at best. Store-bought taste. Thin, no toothsome quality. But it’s too much to expect one kitchen to not only kick-butt for Sashimi, Yakitori, Frying, Grilled Dishes and making their own Tofu, but also making their own Soba Noodles? Not gonna happen. Definitely avoid the Soba. Awful. :frowning:

The cost is also something to consider: Raku cost us roughly 200% - 250% of the cost of Torihei or Bincho. It was about $90 per person. But ordering less or carefully choosing items could mitigate some of the damage.

But overall, I am downright SHOCKED that Raku delivers extremely high-quality, expertly executed LEGIT Japanese Izakaya dishes and kickbutt Yakitori, and amazing Sashimi, and a great Sake menu, in an area that’s not the South Bay or West L.A. I don’t know of any legit Izakaya in this area. So convenient!

Aburiya Raku ROCKS! :smile:

Aburiya Raku
521 N. La Cienega Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90048
Tel: (213) 308-9393
http://aburiyarakula.wixsite.com/weho

Update 1:

Had a friend visiting with a hankering for Japanese izakaya, so off we went back to Aburiya Raku. :smile:

There were some real highlights last time so I was excited to go back and try more stuff and recs from the FTC’ers.

Started with Raku’s Tofu (1/2 Order):

Thanks to @js76wisco for the tip. The total opposite of the more commonly seen Agedashi Tofu (Fried), Raku’s Tofu is a homemade Tofu, chilled, and served with Bonito Flakes, Fresh Grated Ginger, Green Onions.

The server recommends trying a bit of it straight up with some Ginger, Green Onions and the Bonito Flakes. It’s clean and pure. Then she recommended trying it with some of the Matcha Salt (Japanese Green Tea Salt), even better. Finally tried some with their Shoyu blend and it was different and nice as well. Very cool.

Ken2 Salad (Arugula Salad with Organic Chicken Breast, Pine Nuts, Grilled Corn, Sun Dried Tomato, Organic Chicken Skin and Wakame Seaweed):

Thanks to @CiaoBob for this rec! SO GOOD! Usually at a lot of the local Japanese izakayas and yakitoriyas, the “Salads” there range from OK to kind of an afterthought. Not so here. Last time’s Popeye Salad was pretty awesome, and Ciao Bob was right!

The Ken2 Salad was great. It’s SO flavorful, with the Organic Chicken Breast (moist and juicy), nice texture with the crunchy Deep Fried Organic Chicken Skin LOL :smile:, the Pine Nuts and Sun Dried Tomatoes…

Some of the Yakitori Skewers arrived next, starting with Asparagus with Bacon Skewers:

Spot on. Nice balance of flavors.

Had to get a repeat of the Tsukune Grilled Ground Asajime Chicken:

The Organic Ground Asajime Chicken was as good as last time. Yup, consistent so far! :slight_smile: Juicy, fragrant.

Kanpachi Shio Kama (Roasted Amber Jack Collar (Salt version)):

When ordering the Kama (Collar) off of the Robata menu, the server gave us a choice of different Fish to have grilled (Salmon, Amber Jack, Shima Aji and like 2 others). Really nice.

Went with Kanpachi because it rocked last time (in Sashimi form). And it was perfectly roasted / grilled. Juicy, smoky, great!

One of the shocking surprises from my 1st visit to Raku was the fact that at an Izakaya type restaurant, their Kanpachi Sashimi was mind-blowing. I had to know if it was a fluke or not, so on their Specials Menu once again, they had 3 - 4 types of fresh fish for Sashimi preparation this evening. I had to try…

Shima Aji Sashimi (Striped Jack):

I took one bite and just had to stop: FLAWLESS! Super fresh fish, beautiful knife work, no sinewy issues, just drop dead GORGEOUS Shima Aji Sashimi! You have GOT to be kidding me.

Aburiya Raku delivered AGAIN with fantastic Sashimi, rivaling stuff I had at Shunji and Sushi Tsujita earlier this year. :blush: Highlight.

Fried Ice Fish:

This was… kinda tasteless. :frowning: Not so good. Something like the more traditional Shishamo (Smelt Fish) would’ve been much better.

Kurobuta Pork Cheek Skewer:

Thanks to @ilykejordans for the tip. Juicy, fatty Berkshire Pork Cheeks. Nice smoky taste. But personally too fatty for me (my friend loved it).

Pork Intestine Skewer:

I’m not too much into offal, but Raku’s version is a must try. Crisped outside, juicy, tender on the inside.

Had their Kobe Beef Tendon Skewer again… SO GOOD! :smile:

Teriyaki Kurobuta Pork Rib:

If you ever wanted to imagine what Berkshire BBQ Pork Ribs would taste like through the lens of a traditional Japanese Robata Grill it is exactly the Kurobuta Pork Ribs at Raku. The “Teriyaki” is really more of the traditional Yakitori sauce, lightly sweet, but thinner and adding a perfect flavor to the smoky tender ribs. Just great stuff. :smile:

Apple Marinated Colorado Lamb Chop:

Another awesome creation from Aburiya Raku’s grill masters. Super tender Colorado Lamb Chop.

Live Uni Udon:

I think many of us have tried various sorts of “Uni Pasta” and it has this charm to this interesting fusion-y creation. Raku creates an Uni Udon, using fresh, live Santa Barbara Uni (Sea Urchin) and using thin Udon noodles, Ikura and topping the fresh Uni sauce with more fresh, live Uni and serving it in its dramatic looking shell.

I thought, “Nice presentation, but maybe a bit showy. Probably be all flash and no substance…”

Oh how wrong I was! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEKEND! Super fresh, sweet perfect Live Uni melding flawlessly with the thin Udon noodles. :smiley:

This was the best Uni Udon / Pasta dish I have ever had. Ever. :heart:

Finished off with Grade A5 Kagoshima Wagyu Beef Sukiyaki:

This is another dish that speaks to the quality that Raku is going for, importing in Grade A5 Wagyu Beef from Kagoshima Japan. :open_mouth:

I was shocked to see this in a regular izakaya. The A5 Wagyu was absurdly tender, and the light poaching in the Sukiyaki broth was a great way to eat it, cooked just right. Awesome!

I am again shocked by the level of quality Raku can execute on. When they are on, they are ON! Some of the best dishes I’ve had this year in any restaurant. But they also have multiple misses and flaws on dishes that just don’t work at times (like their Fried Ice Fish this time, or the Poached Egg last time).

Still, the highlights are too great to pass up. And it’s Midtown LA’s first legit izakaya.

Aburiya Raku
521 N. La Cienega Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90048
Tel: (213) 308-9393
http://aburiyarakula.wixsite.com/weho

Update 2:

Had more friends visiting, and they were hankering for some Japanese, so we stopped by Raku again.

Started off the evening the right way - Sake first, LOL. :wink:

Kasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Dry Junmai (from Hyogo, Japan):

For a Junmai Sake, this was excellent: Smooth, but with a dry, clean finish. It was lightly, naturally sweet. Glad to have tried it.

Kanpachi (Amberjack) Sashimi (Kyushu, Japan):

Fantastic, yet again. Very fresh, supple. Loved the additional Kiku (Chrysanthemum Flower) as a garnish, it was a really nice palate cleanser.

One of my visiting friends (a sushi snob) was happily surprised at the quality of the Kanpachi served here at an Izakaya. :slight_smile:

Asajime Chicken Thigh Skewer:

It’s been a few months, but biting into their Asajime Chicken, you can really taste how deep and “Chicken-y” the flavor is. I really appreciate Raku’s Free-Range, freshly dispatched Chicken. You can taste a discernible difference.

Asajime Chicken Breast Wrapped with Chicken Skin:

The favorite skewer for one of my friends was their Asajime Chicken Breast Yakitori Skewers, wrapped in Chicken Skin, which is crisped to a crunchy exterior over their Japanese Binchotan Charcoal. It’s still juicy, tender, delicious! Same as my last visit.

Asparagus with Bacon:

Another classic Yakitori skewer, Asparagus wrapped with Bacon and slowly roasted over their Binchotan. Excellent.

Teriyaki Kurobuta Pork Ribs:

It’s a little sweet, but so good! Lightly smoky, tender Kurobuta Pork Ribs. :slight_smile:

Agedashi Tofu:

Their Homemade Tofu done Agedashi style is delicious. No complaints.

Juicy Deep Fried Asajime Chicken:

Aburiya Raku’s take on traditional Japanese Karaage Fried Chicken, juicy, tender, awesome Asajime Chicken, and with crisped skin on the outside.

Tsukune Grilled Ground Asajime Chicken:

Their version of the Chicken Meatball Skewer, one of my friends blurted out, “So, Japanese Corn Dog, right?” ;), but once they took a bite of it, they stopped talking and devoured the entire thing, LOL. :smile: Still as tender, succulent as before.

Duck with Balsamic Soy Sauce:

Bits of tender Duck with some Duck Fat and slightly crisped Duck Skin.

Kobe Beef Tendon:

This was one of my other friend’s favorite dish of the night. So tender and gelatinous, yet has an outer crust / crunch from the great Binchotan Charcoal. :slight_smile:

Steamed Foie Gras Chawanmushi (Egg Custard):

Still thanking @Ns1 to this day for the recommendation on this. SO good and silky and delicate. The Foie Gras is blended with the Egg Custard and steamed to perfection. :slight_smile:

Grade A5 Wagyu Steak on Lava Rock (from Kagoshima, Japan):

The one misstep of the night, it was a pretty presentation, with them pouring some alcohol to cause a tableside eruption of flames onto the A5 Wagyu Beef. Unfortunately, it’s overcooked. It’s still quite tender, but they left it on the lava rock too long, or that fiery additional explosion cooked it beyond medium rare. So it was tender, but not spectacular. :frowning:

Grilled Rice Ball in Broth (with Grilled Salmon):

This is a hybrid Ochazuke / Grilled Onigiri dish, and it worked. Tasty Rice Ball, nice Grilled Salmon and the end Ochazuke Broth and flavors combined nicely.

Kikusui Perfect Snow Nigori Sake (Niigata, Japan):

Finished up with a bottle of Kikusui Perfect Snow, a sweet way to end the evening.

Shima Aji Sashimi (Striped Jack):

Friends wanted to try more stuff so we continued on with a round of Shima Aji Sashimi, which was as ridiculous as their Kanpachi we had earlier: So good! :slight_smile:

Kurobuta Pork Cheek:

Slightly fatty bits mixed with lean Kurobuta Pork meat, it’s just delicious.

Yaki Shima Aji Belly:

So they had Shima Aji (Striped Jack) Belly portion roasted over Japanese Binchotan Charcoal. The outer layer is crisped, and the inner portion is tender and almost buttery (belly portion, duh).

Asajime Chicken Teba Wing:

Their Free-Range Asajime Chicken Wings, another winner.

I’m so glad we have a legit Japanese Izakaya in this part of town. I don’t mind driving to Torrance / South Bay for great stuff, but having Aburiya Raku here is welcome. :slight_smile:

Aburiya Raku
521 N. La Cienega Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90048
Tel: (213) 308-9393
http://aburiyarakula.wixsite.com/weho

Update 3: Tairagai (Pen Shell Clam), Fried Mizu Octopus, Grade A5 Wagyu Steak and more:


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#2

Got some great pics in that low light condition! Thanks for the lengthy recap of your meal! How many people were you and how much did this meal set you back?


#3

Wow.
Great report.
Color me there!
Thanks


#4

But I must say, on further reading, there are a lot of misses in your meal. Sure some big hits. It seems like they are not batting like a playoff team.


#5

Hey theoffalo,

Thanks for the reminder. I just added the cost in the OP. Ran about $90 per person. Not cheap.

But to be fair skipping alcohol, or ordering less (focusing on some cheaper items) can bring the cost down a bit.


#6

@CiaoBob thanks.

Yah, to be fair the biggest offenders were the Poached Egg w/ Uni and the Soba. Tomato Bacon Skewer was also meh.

But the highlights were definitely major hits as well.

I like the down home humble atmosphere of Torihei a lot more, but Raku is definitely more refined and elevated in some sense, and convenient for Midtown LA / Melrose / Hollywood, etc. Some pretty great items that were memorable and really authentic.


#7

Amazing report with photos!

At the Vegas one you can get the foie chawan mushi with soba to dip in it. Was it available at this one?


#8

Great report, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

I’m surprised about the soba, I haven’t had it at their LA location yet but when I got the green tea soba in Vegas, it was fucking legit, the best I’ve had in the states.

If it’s on the menu the hamachi kama is another fucking must order.

How was the service, has it picked up yet?


#9

That was my experience with the LV location as well - some misses with some crazy highs. I also agree that the tsukune at Raku is not their strong point - hell id describe what I got at LV as bland.

BUT… Go there a couple of times, figure out what they’re good at, and a meal full of their hits would be 10/10 amazing (I suspect…)

OP: Glad you got the chawanmushi. Even more glad it worked out for yah.


#10

Fantastic report as well, chowseeker1999 ! How was the wait and service? Love Raku LV. Can’t wait to try this one as soon as everything settles and before it gets too popular.


#11

Gotcha. I am going - tonight as a matter of fact.
As you and @Ns1 point out, they don’t all have to be homers to have a great game. I think I am pushing the baseball metaphor harder than it deserves.


#12

Oh, the foie gras w/ egg custard sounds divine… :slight_smile:

Does your $90 pp total INCLUDE the alcohol?


#13

yeah, kinda a bad morning for a lot of LA baseball fans


#14

great report. a lot to salivate over.

related note on izakayas…any sightings of black squid ink (w squid) fried rice? From my somewhat limited experience, usually served in an upside-down bowl dome shape with an egg yolk omelet blanketing the top. Ubiquitious in Okinawan islands in my visits and saw that above about the Okinawan peppers so thought, hell, maybe? They also have this killer alcohol and Okinawan based hot sauce with the peppers floating in the bottle…man i would enjoy that stuff. As much as I love Oki’s dog, it’s not the Okinawan experience i miss. Are there even any Okinawan joints? I think Shinji-san at Kiriko is Okinawan BTW.


#15

@secretasianman @Mr_JJ

Is the recent Bourdain show the genesis of such Oki love?
Is Oki-Dog Okinawan?


#16

There’s a Shinji-san at Oki’s Dog on Pico. He’s Okinawan. I recall it was invented by an Okinawan friend of his who came to California. I’m not up on the history and didn’t have any hot dogs in Okinawa, Ishigaki or anywhere down there. Maybe had something to do with mix of cultures with US troops – time for some F’king research! I do like an Oki dog but not as much as the izakayas in Okinawa – frankly those are among the best izakayas ive ever been to. Unique sashimi with blue colored skin, interesting one sided clams - forgot what they were called – special hot sauces and noodles, beef that surpasses Kobe on Ishigaki and that damn fried rice which seems we have all the ingredients to do up here in LA…too bad i’m not as good a cook as I am an eater.


#17

Hi @Porthos ,

Wow, that sounds amazing. No I didn’t see that menu option here, darn.

What else did you like at the Vegas one?


#18

@Selfportrait93, @PorkyBelly

The wait at 8:45 p.m. was ZERO (on a weeknight). :smile: It was about 50% full by 9 p.m. on the weeknight, so that seems to be the way to go.

Service was spot on. Nothing amazing, but solid service. Food came out in a timely manner (quick). Nothing like the “3 hour waits” that seemed to plague it during soft opening week?

Have no idea how crazy weekends will be though.


#19

Great post and nice pics.

The only items from LV that were outstanding that I would recommend are the tofu. Get 1/2 of each preparation - agedashi and fresh. Usually on the special menu they have a fish that you can also get prepared 2 ways - grilled and steamed in a sauce. Both were excellent.

The usual standouts which you ordered look fantastic - chawanmushi, teba chicken wing, tofu and beef tendon.

Can’t wait to go.


#20

actually a friend from okinawa mentioned the show.