Totoraku – 8/7/10
10610 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Some people know Totoraku as the “secret beef restaurant.” Others have no idea what it is. Likely the hardest reservation in Los Angeles, Totoraku is a non-descript “hidden” restaurant serving what many consider the best beef in the city. However, the restaurant does not serve steaks; rather, it specializes in yakiniku – grilled cuts of meat cooked over coals at your table. Given that I’m a beef lover, and that it’s consistently in the top LA restaurants on Yelp, it’s somewhere I’ve wanted to go for a while.
The exterior signage of the restaurant says it’s a “teriyaki house,” which is kind of humorous since the restaurant is nothing like that. Unsuspecting passersby would not look twice at the rather plain awning and storefront.
Reservations are strictly limited to those with some sort of connection to the owner (which I didn’t have). Without a reservation, they won’t even let you in the door. So, when Kevin of kevinEats had a reservation opening to come here, I jumped at the chance.
The decor isn’t much; the focus is obviously on the food. Chef Kaz Oyama is quite the wine connoisseur, especially in French wines. He keeps an impressive collection of empty bottles on the ledge separating the kitchen and the dining room.
First up was a tray of bite-sized appetizers. Unfortunately I didn’t catch all of them in time, but it did include: fresh mozzarella, quail egg with caviar, asparagus with sansai and walnuts, steamed abalone, shrimp with zucchini, cantaloupe melon with prosciutto, sockeye salmon, black sesame tofu, and an Alaskan king crab gelee. I was a little surprised by this course, as it showed the chef’s creativity outside of Japanese cuisine, using some European flair (mostly French and Italian) to make some tasty bites.
Next up, let the beef begin!
Short Rib Carpaccio
Extremely tender, melt-in-your-mouth pieces of short rib. The thing you probably notice first is the extreme marbling – really a thing of beauty, and a common characteristic of all of the cuts we would have.
Seared Ribeye and Beef Throat Sashimi
The ribeye was very lightly seared, tender and flavorful – salt and pepper was all that was necessary. This was my first time having beef throat (shown on the right); Kevin pointed out that the portion shown here is made up of two cows. The throat is somewhat chewy (a change of pace from all of the other tender cuts), but exhibits a strong beefy flavor. I definitely enjoyed it.
House Smoked Tongue
This dish also caught me a bit by surprise; definitely something different. The meat was very good – deliciously smoky and extremely tender, without appearing overly fatty.
Steak Tartare topped with Quail Egg
I loved this dish. The beef, along with daikon, pea shoots and a quail egg are mixed up together. There’s a nice accent of sesame oil, which really brought everything together. Sliced apples (or pears?) added some sweetness and crunch. Good stuff.
After this dish, the grills came out and we knew it was time to cook up some beef!
With the grills came out a trio of dipping sauces – soy sauce, lemon juice and a tare sauce.
Slightly chewy with very nice marbling, these pieces were delicious. Chef Oyama sprinkled these with a large-crystallized sea salt and pepper.
As expected, these were very tender chunks of beef. Careful not to cook it too long, we were able to keep the meat pink in the center, yielding a pretty juicy and flavorful bite. Definitely one of the better pieces of tenderloin I’ve had in a while, as I often find the filets I have tender but lacking in great flavor.
Assorted Raw Vegetables
Zucchini, radish and carrots were cut up and left for the duration of the meal. All of these were fresh, crunchy, and provided a crisp, refreshing bite in between courses of rich meats.
These tomatoes were very ripe – yielding a deliciously sweet and juicy bite every time. This is the first time I’ve ever had these tomatoes to my knowledge – a great varietal. It was a treat to have something sweet to cleanse the palate in between courses.
I love how Chef Oyama split up the outside “lip” of the ribeye and the inside, as they really are two distinctive cuts of meat. The outside, shown below being grilled, is much fattier and more tender.
The inside of the ribeye is typically less marbled than the outside, and this was no exception. However, all of Chef Oyama’s cuts are spectacularly marbled, making this cut another extremely tender and flavorful piece of meat.
Again, some excellent marbling is displayed. At the risk of sounding like a broken record player, the short ribs were very tender with some good beef flavor.
The last meat on the menu was this skirt steak. A cheaper cut, I really like skirt steak, as it is typically a more marbled cut with some great flavor. No exception here. The soy marinade provided a nice sweetness to pair with the smokiness of the grill.
As we rounded out the beef dishes, we had the option of having seconds of some of our favorite cuts. These were:
Short Rib #2
We were told these were cut from a different part of the short rib. Look at that marbling! Really superb and noticeably more marbled than the last short rib course.
Inside Ribeye #2
Consistent with the first round of the inside ribeye – another tasty piece of meat.
Skirt Steak #2
This was actually one of my favorite cuts of the night, and the second round did not disappoint.
Short Rib Carpaccio
Like the first round, these melted in your mouth with a touch of scallions and daikon. This would be our final meat course of the night.
This soup was made of bamboo, bean sprouts, egg, shiitake mushrooms and spinach. You have the option of choosing the spiciness level of the soup. Medium was perfect for me. There’s a really deep, soul-satisfying flavor to this soup.
Assorted Ice Creams and Sorbets
The flavors available on this night, clockwise from the top: Blueberry sorbet, Pistachio ice cream (light green towards the back), Lychee sorbet, Espresso ice cream, and White Chocolate with Raspberry ice cream. Great selection here, and none were letdowns. My favorites were probably the refreshing lychee and intense espresso ice creams.
In all, I had a great meal. Having heard a lot about the restaurant, I came in with some pretty high expectations and the beef definitely did not disappoint. At close to $200 before tax and tip to enjoy this experience, it definitely cannot be a regular occurrence. However, it’s a very unique meal in LA, a great experience, and I would encourage all to go if given the chance…especially if you’re a meat lover like I am!
Thanks for coming out Darin–good to see that you enjoyed yourself. BTW, I believe the “House Smoked Ham” was actually tongue, smoked for 10 days.
Haha thanks for looking out – point noted. Again, thanks for the invite – I did have a good time.
I believe most of us loves meat, but for $200, you’d have to love meat more than a lot of things… This place will escape me until they close, probably.
Hi Darin – great, to-the-point review of Totoraku along with excellent pictures. You and I certainly share a deep appreciation for marbling!
Anyways, I’ve tried calling him several times to make a reservation without any luck, as I am new to LA and don’t know anyone. Then I came across your review. Are you now a “regular” and someone whom I might be able to reference to secure a reservation for two?
I don’t want to impose this on you but would greatly appreciate your help. My email is [email protected]. Thank you!
Hi Curtis – unfortunately, I don’t have the ability to make reservations at Totoraku.
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