Yazawa (Beverly Hills, CA)

Yazawa
9669 S Santa Monica Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Dining date: 8/6/16

Exterior

Yazawa is a chain of restaurants based in Japan specializing in Japanese wagyu beef. The restaurant group has locations in Singapore and Milan in addition to Japan, but this is their first in America. As the server described it to us, what differentiates Yazawa is that they are also a distributor of wagyu cattle; they butcher their own beef in-house and are not required to freeze their meat before serving.
As a result, Yazawa serves the largest variety of wagyu I have seen in America. They have some domestic beef varieties too, as well as some chicken and pork cuts all grilled up at the table. A handful of appetizers and side dishes, many of them featuring wagyu, are available too.

You can order a la carte, but there are a few levels of omakase available between $100 and $160. We went with the second tier omakase ($120), adding a few a la carte dishes to round out the meal.

Interior

Continue reading

Totoraku (Los Angeles, CA) [3]

Totoraku
10610 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Dining date: 7/23/13

totoraku exterior

I haven’t been to Totoraku, the “secret beef place,” in just about two years. There are two main reasons for this: one, it’s very expensive ($200+) and two, I’m not actually able to make reservations. You see, only those that make some sort of impression and develop a relationship with chef/owner Kaz Oyama are able to get a table. Luckily, a friend of mine has the ability and invited me to go.

While somewhat exclusive, Totoraku’s menu is rather simple. It changes pretty infrequently, relying on a few staple raw beef courses and various cuts of beef that you grill yourself. The key to the meal is the quality of the beef, which is almost Japanese wagyu-like in marbling. It comes from a secret ranch that the chef won’t disclose, but it’s surprisingly domestic.

Aside from the beef, the chef is a known oenophile and bringing pricey Bordeaux to complement the beef and share with the chef has been an oft-used way to get a ticket for future entry. The wall separating the kitchen and dining room shows off some of his consumed bottles with names like Mouton Rothschild, Margaux, Haut Brion, La Tache and domestically, Harlan Estate and Opus One.

wine wall

Continue reading

Totoraku (Los Angeles, CA)

Totoraku
10610 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Dining date: 7/9/11

I first went to Totoraku last August but had yet to return. The “secret beef restaurant,” reservations can only be made by those who have gotten a business card from the chef. I am not one of those people. However, I had the privilege of taking part in someone else’s party of six.

There is no menu; rather, the food just comes out of the kitchen unprompted. The meal tends to follow a basic progression: appetizers, raw beef, cooked beef, soup and ice cream.

Appetizers

Unfortunately, I didn’t capture what any of these were. Totoraku’s appetizers are very different from the rest of the meal, providing light amuse-bouche type bites as a precursor to the plates of rich beef to follow.

Top Sirloin Cap Carpaccio

The first few beef dishes were all raw. Here was a carpaccio, heightened by some onions and garlic. There was a slight sweetness too, but the beef was definitely at center.

Beef Throat Sashimi and Seared Ribeye

The ribeye was solid but rather ordinary; the throat was a big highlight. I don’t think I’ve eaten throat anywhere but here, and it makes me wonder if most cow throats go straight to animal feed (or hot dogs?). Slightly chewy and very beefy, it was really delicious.

Steak Tartare

The last raw dish was this one, meant to be stirred. Sesame oil added a slight nuttiness, while the quail egg added an oozy richness. A tasty tartare, for sure.

The tableside grills signaled the next stage of the meal.

Beef Tongue

Mmm beef tongue. Slightly chewy and tender, really fatty and rich. The marbling was incredible. Seriously good.

Filet Mignon

Surprisingly juicy and full of flavor, this was one of the best variations of the tenderloin I’ve had in a while.

Some raw vegetables and tomatoes were brought out next to help balance out the richness of the beef.

Daikon, Cucumber, Carrots

Momotaru Tomatoes

Super sweet; some of the best tomatoes I’ve ever had.

Outside Ribeye

One of my favorite cuts of the cow is this outside part of the ribeye, much fattier than the inside. As expected, the meat was really juicy, tender and beefy.

Inside Ribeye

Although I prefer the outside of the ribeye, the inside is no slouch. Totaoraku’s meats are all very well-marbled; this inside ribeye was exceedingly tender and really held its own.

Short Rib

When I saw the marbling on this meat, I knew it would be good. Amazing. The texture was melt-in-mouth with a sweetness from the marinade.

Skirt Steak

Excessively marbled as well, this was another delicious cut.

We opted for seconds on a couple of cuts, including the tongue.

Beef Tongue

Inside Ribeye

Both as good as before.

We had the option of two soups, a vegetable-based one and a king crab udon. The choice was easy.

King Crab Udon Soup

Whoa. The soup came out in impressive fashion – a large bowl (must’ve been about 16 inches across) filled to the brim with udon and king crab. Surprisingly, the udon maintained a nice chew, while the crab was sweet. A delicious seafood broth really elevated the dish. Now, if only I could find this in Little Tokyo…

White Chocolate with Raspberry, Espresso and Pistachio Ice Creams; Lychee and Blueberry Sorbets

We sampled each of the 5 ice creams/sorbets on offer for dessert. Simple – just something sweet to end the meal with. My favorites were the espresso and pistachio.

Lastly, the wines – the six of us each brought one for the meal.

This visit to Totoraku was better than my last. I’m not totally sure why since the menu was substantially the same (except the soup). Maybe it was because I barely ate anything during the day. Or maybe because I felt more comfortable around the grill this time.  Either way, it was delicious. I don’t hesitate in saying Totoraku serves the best beef I’ve had in LA, in both quality and (especially) in variety. At around $200, it’s quite a splurge. However, I think it’s a worthwhile experience, particularly for the beef lover.

Totoraku – 8/7/10

Totoraku
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.

Beef Tongue

Slightly chewy with very nice marbling, these pieces were delicious. Chef Oyama sprinkled these with a large-crystallized sea salt and pepper.

Filet Mignon

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.

Momotaru Tomatoes

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.

Outside Ribeye

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.

Inside Ribeye

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.

Short Rib

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.

Skirt Steak

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.

Soup

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!