Totoraku (Los Angeles, CA) (2)

Totoraku
10610 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Dining date: 9/26/11

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Totoraku (AKA ‘secret beef restaurant’) is one of the more unique dining experiences in LA. I thought it would be a good idea for my parents to come and eat here while they were in town. Plus, my dad loves beef as much as I do. As far as I know, they don’t have quite the same type of yakiniku experience in the Bay Area. Given I don’t have the ability to make a reservation, this would prove tricky. However, my friend was kind enough to make one and dine with us.

I handled the alcohol duty, always fun since Totoraku is strictly BYOB.

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Of my three visits, the menu has varied very little, with much of the differentiation being in the first appetizer course.

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Shrimp with caviar, fresh abalone, asparagus, proscuitto with lemon, momotaru tomatoes, smoked salmon, king crab with mushroom, black sesame tofu and bluefin tuna with okra is what I remember from this plate. Always hard to catch everything on here. For the most part, this is the chef’s lone creative outlet in a menu full of raw beef dishes. Basically a plate of 9 different amuse bouche, the flavors are typically on the lighter side, just enough to get the appetite going. My favorite would have to have been the bluefin tuna with  okra – something about the slimy and crunchy texture of the okra went well the flavorful tuna.

Sirloin Cap Carpaccio

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The onion was a key component adding the brightness of raw onion, contrasting the rich, well-marbled meat. A well-made carpaccio, indeed.

Seared Ribeye and Beef Throat Sashimi

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The ribeye was fine (it was about as expected), but I rarely see beef throat on a menu…let alone raw. Slightly chewy but I liked the texture, with a rather mild beef flavor. I just wonder what happens to all of the other cow throats out there.

Ha. Oh, the irony.

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Steak Tartare topped with Quail Egg

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A solid tartare. I think the quail egg, stirred into the mixture, really added a richness that brought everything together. I think there was a touch of light soy sauce here, a differentiating flavor from a French steak tartare.

The grill signals the start of the GYOM stage…that is, grill your own meats (yay!). The progression of courses have been exactly the same as my previous visits, so I won’t comment individually.

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Beef Tongue

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Filet Mignon

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Assorted Raw Vegetables

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Momotaru Tomatoes

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Outside Ribeye

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Inside Ribeye

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Short Rib

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Skirt Steak

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Alaskan King Crab Udon Soup

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We passed on dessert (ice cream), opting for Scoops Westside’s instead.

While the meats are certainly a highlight, the king crab udon may have been the most memorable dish of the night. I was glad they had this since my dad loves crab, and it’s really an impressive looking dish. It’s served in a huge bowl ready for sharing, topped with large chunks of crab legs and udon. So good. Seriously. If anything, it’s on the spicier end of my lame-ass tolerance, which means it’s probably just right (or mild) for most. Still, I love myself some soup noodles (udon was one of my favorites growing up), and the meaty crab legs just added to the fun. An excellent dish.

At about $200 a head, Totoraku isn’t cheap. It’s probably more expensive than it needs to be (heck, you do all of the cooking), but that seems to be the market price of a top-notch yakiniku place in LA. I think it’s worth at least one visit for the experience. The combination of variety and quality of beef is second to none in LA, and it’s really a treat for any lover of beef. The meat is pretty well-marbled, marinated just right and delicious. And that Alaskan king crab soup is something to behold. Oh, and it’s a fun experience too.

Previous Tototaku posts:
8/7/107/9/11

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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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Beef Tongue

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

Filet Mignon

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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

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Momotaru Tomatoes

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

Outside Ribeye

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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

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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

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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

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Excessively marbled as well, this was another delicious cut.

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

Beef Tongue

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Inside Ribeye

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

n/naka (Los Angeles, CA)

n/naka
3455 S. Overland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Dining date: 4/6/11

Niki Nakayama is the chef behind n/naka, who previously was preparing omakase menus at Inaka in Arcadia. Unfortunately I never got a chance to make it out there, and Nakayama has since left Inaka to open her own place on the Westside. It’s currently open to the public, but she had a soft-opening for friends and family in late-March to early April. Diana (who was a regular at Inaka) got an invitation to this soft-opening, and graciously invited Kevin, Ryan, Daniel, myself and friend Susannah to join.

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Kyoto Carrot “Drop” California Sturgeon Caviar, Creme Fraiche

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This first one was an interesting one. The spherification of carrot (from Nakayama’s garden) had a subtle sweetness, which combined with the tart creme fraiche and salty caviar. I didn’t get quite as much caviar flavor (outside of the salt) as I thought I would, though.

Tasmanian Sea Trout Confit White Asparagus Truffle Sauce

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The trout was cooked well, leaving it quite tender and moist. The sauce had a very subtle truffle flavor, but added some nice depth to the fish.

Live Sea Scallop Ponzu, Yuzu Kosho

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This dish was simple but good. Pretty much as advertised, I did enjoy the yuzu kosho which added just a little bit of heat here.

Sashimi Kumamoto Oyster, Tai, Chutoro, Seared Tuna, Kanpachi

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Next was a plate of sashimi. I thought these were all good examples of the fish, with the kanpachi really standing out the most. I definitely would’ve preferred the tuna raw over seared, though.

Kani Koramushi Egg, Shitake, Black Truffle

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Likely the most memorable dish of the night – this was a steamed crab head with black truffle, mushrooms and a chicken egg served in-shell. Really savory and full of umami, I really liked the rich sea-tasting broth with the richness of the yolk, as well as the subtle earthiness of the truffle.

Foie Gras and Takenoko Soup Takenoho Gohan

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I really liked this dish as well. The foie gras was really good with a melt-in-mouth texture. I dumped the rice into the soup, making for some really comfortable, satisfying bites.

Australian Wagyu Teppan

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I forgot to take a picture of this one; picture above is compliments of Diana. The wagyu was cooked well-done, but the marbling allowed it to still be tender and avoid being excessively dry. There were a lot of things going on in the sauce (garlic and soy were strong flavors), but I thought it complemented the meat well.

Toro and Tai

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I really liked the tai (halibut) with the citrus of some yuzu. Even better was the luscious toro, fatty with a melt-in-mouth texture.

Masu (Tasmanian Sea Trout) and Aji

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Here we had a return of the sea trout – the fish here tasted very similar to the first preparation, though this time showcasing the pure flavor of the fish. The aji (Spanish mackerel) was a good preparation as well, with its oily fishy flesh on clear display.

Hamachi Toro and Amaebi

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I wish I was served hamachi belly more often as I really like it. It’s not nearly as fatty as the tuna’s belly, but it presents a richer flavor than regular hamachi while still having a really silky texture. I found the amaebi (sweet shrimp) to be a little bit chewier than expected.

Lobster Linguine Rum Butter, Parmesan Foam

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This was a supplemental dish to the tasting – the table next to us was served this so we requested it. I thought this was pretty good, though not exceptional.

Green Tea Souffle with Red Bean, Frozen Chocolate Mousse with Banana Ice Cream

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Lastly, we had dessert. The souffle was pretty good with a mild green tea flavor. The chocolate mousse was overly frozen and way too hard though, making it difficult to break with a fork.

I would say the food at n/naka met expectations, though did not exceed. We were presented with a broad array of well-executed traditional Japanese plates, some with some western and modern touches, but at a price point of $115, I may have expected a little more.