I’ve never heard of yakiniku before, but they are Japanese restaurants that specialize in serving grilled meats and in this case, specifically beef. There are various cuts and preparations of beef that are mainly grilled on a charcoal table grill. Smooth Obturator and Triple T had been talking about this really good restaurant that not only specialized in yakiniku, but was veiled in such secrecy that it is impossible to get in without knowing the owner or someone who knows the owner. Go figure, but it’s really true. Yelp reviewers have heaped tons of praise for Totoraku, and the reviews are always caveated with the fact that one cannot get a reservation unless they know someone. Thankfully, through Smooth Obturator who is friends with Oishi Nazi and Tiny T who are best buds with Kaz Oyama, the owner of Totoraku, Pdho, Overworked, and I were able to score some seats for dinner. Tiny T suggested it might be rude for us to take pictures, so Pdho left his camera at home. Luckily, my sister ignored the warning so here are pictures courtesy of Overworked.
The meal started with a collection of amuse bouches that were prepared from seasonal, fresh fruits and other ingredients.
The small bites of foie gras were served on mini halves of boiled eggs. It was rich and creamy. The mozarella was topped with a tomato gelee which I found to be very well-balanced and pretty reminiscent of the Italian version of this appetizer.
The ankimo jelly tasted pretty much like regular jellyfish with the same bit of chew, but the garnishes with pickled vegetables and the chunk of monkfish added a different twist of flavor.
The slice of prosciutto topped a bite of Asian pear and offered a nice balance of savory sweetness. Abalone is not usually a favorite of mine, but it tasted okay. The Black Sesame Jelly was quite interesting because of the consistency, but it wasn’t really at the top of the list in terms of taste.
The Caviar Vegetable Jelly was a little bit odd tasting. The jelly consistency was interesting, but I think the caviar taste overwhelmed the taste of the entire bite. The Persimmon Tofu Shrimp Salad was a creamy mix of goodness. I liked the combination of flavors and even though I don’t usually like persimmon, I thought it was interesting. The Soba Noodle Salmon was a little bit on the bland side, but I like the preparation.
What followed next was a whole line up of beef dishes which began with the Short Rib Carpaccio. Thinly sliced pieces of beef seasoned with some oil, salt and pepper and topped with some onions. There probably was more to the preparation, but it’s all Japanese to me. There was a good deal of marbling in the meat that it inevitably imparted a rich and fatty tasty to it. A nice start.
I have to admit, I was a little bit surprised to see such raw meat since I have never even eaten yakiniku before, but it’s not like I don’t like my steak cooked on the rare side of medium. I’m used to the thinly sliced variety. The Beef Tataki was slightly seered, but the Beef Throat Sashimi looked straight up uncooked and presented as thicker cuts of beef a la sashimi-style. Both were surprisingly flavorful and not really as raw-tasting as one would think.
Beef Tongue has been one of my more recent discoveries which I really, really like. Seriously, it is delicious! These slices of beef tongue were a little thinner, but in spite of the fact that it is a muscle and that would make you think it would be kind of tough, the texture is surprisingly tender. This preparation was slightly smoked and very well seasoned.
The Steak Tartare came served with cucumbers, daikon, pea shoots and a quail egg on top. I think the meat itself was already marinaded with some sesame oil and maybe some other things, so once it was all mixed together, every mouthful was full of heavenly flavorful meat.
The grill finally came out and every dish that follows was cooked on the grill. We started with a plate of Beef Tongue. These slices were much thicker than the smoked preparation and were subtly seasoned with some pepper and sea salt. I’m really impressed at how tender and juicy the grilled beef tongue tasted. One of the top dishes of the evening. I’m surprised how much I’m growing to like Beef Tongue.
The Filet Mignon was pretty thick and meaty. It was good but didn’t seem to stand out in comparison to every other cut of beef that was being served, which was kind of odd considering it is Filet Mignon.
It is hard to go wrong with ribeye, but who knew there was a difference between outside versus inside ribeye. I think the Outside Ribeye had a lot more fat, so it tasted very rich and sinfully fatty. However, I have to admit that the different cuts of meat were starting to get blurry as I started to surpass the point of satiety.
The Inside Ribeye, despite being less fatty, still had a decent amount of marbling.
The Short Rib served for grilling was equally rich in marbling as the Carpaccio preparation. It was reminiscent of the cuts used in Korean BBQ, but I felt that the quality of beef was different. Somehow, even though there didn’t seem to be that much seasoning or marinade, you could really taste the delicious flavor of the beef come through in every bite.
The Skirt Steak stood out from the other meats mainly because it was more heavily marinaded in sesame oil, soy sauce and some green onions. It was still pretty good.
Although they served some vegetables to be cooked on the grill and other accoutrements of the legume variety to eat with the meat, it was really all meant to highlight the beef. However, the tomato salad that was served was AMAZING! It looked simple enough, but I’m sure there had to be some sort of seasoning or marinade used, because the only time I ever ate tomatoes that rocked my taste buds like this was in Italy. It was sweet but so uniquely delicious…. Hard to describe but supremely memorable.
Once the beef stopped flowing from the kitchen, the meal rounded out with a hot Korean Kuppa which was a flavorful broth with bamboo, bean sprouts, egg, shitake mushrooms, spinach and a bit of rice. It was nice way to cleanse the palate and wash down the meal.
Oishi Nazi originally insisted on pistachio ice cream only for dessert, but since most of us were newbie Totoraku-ites, he allowed us to sample the rainbow. All the flavors were very good, but I have to admit that even though I was expecting pistachio to be my least favorite, it was actually near the top.
Overall, I really, really enjoyed the meal. It was extremely delicious and probably one of the most memorable meals ironically because it was 90% beef in multiple ways. Generally, the appetizers were interesting, and they served as a nice balance for all the protein to follow, but the beef really was the star of the meal. The quality of the beef and preparation by Oyama-san really takes beef to a whole different level in my mind. Furthermore, it speaks very highly to the skills of the chef when you can eat as much beef (and most of it being raw) as we ate (without any rice or starch to balance the flavor) and not feel a little bit sick. The meat was well-prepared and most of the time, in ways that I have never eaten it. Admittedly, we were all pretty stuffed by the end, so it’s definitely a meal I would probably have to starve most of the day in preparation for…. but I definitely think it’s a meal that you should experience (and I emphasize “experience” because it truly is a unique one). I think the fact that reservations being so hard to come by help to make it a slightly more special dining adventure.
10610 West Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90064
PAFO Ratings for Totoraku:
Price 4½ stars
Ambiance 2½ stars
Food 4 stars
Overall rating 4 stars