I was lucky to get seated at Aburiya Raku when I did. There was a single open seat at the bar, right in front of one of the chefs. Parties that arrived after me were told anywhere from a 30 minute wait to two hours. Raku is small, and when parties arrive, they tend to order big. So I was lucky in that I was able to eat at one of Vegas' best restaurants without a reservation at 8pm on a Friday night. And the night was only getting started.
I'm not quite certain what aburiya means (the web site implies "house of enjoyment", which has been oft-repeated, and thus skews search results), but it seems to be a type of drinking establishment where food is served. Izakaya is probably the word that loosely encompasses both a working class drinking establishment (akachochin) as well as an aburiya which feels more upscale. Raku definitely fits that upscale descriptor, even if the place seats less than fifty people.
There are lots of traditional dishes here at Raku, such as the zarusoba (cold buckwheat noodle) preparation shown in the main picture as well as the sashimi above. What makes Raku special is that these humble dishes are given slight twists. The soba is topped with a poached egg. The white and yolk add to the salty tsuyu sauce for a nice richness.
Meanwhile, the sashimi of kinme (golden-eye snapper) is cured between leaves of konbu (kelp), which adds another layer of ocean flavor to an already delicious slice of fish.
Other traditional, though rarely seen at other Japanese establishments, include broiled tonsoku pig's feet, or trotters, as well as something as simple as skewered cherry tomatoes. These items, for me, are very Japanese, though the menu also offered slightly westernized renditions of the same preparation, offering pork ribs and tomatoes wrapped in bacon.
There were two highlights for this evening at Raku. One was a bowl of noodles served with uni, or sea urchin roe. Except in this case, the bowl was the inverted shell of the sea urchin itself! Uni was present in the chilled sauce, and even bits of ikura (salmon roe) were present.
noodles with sea urchin
However, the single most transformative dish I had, and probably the best dish I've ever had in Las Vegas, was Raku's take on chawanmushi, or steamed egg custard. I've said before that if any establishment has chawanmushi on the menu, you order it, because it's something that a) is hard to do, and thus b) is rarely on a menu. Raku's version was not only topped by perfectly cooked pieces of pork belly, but there was foie gras in the custard. So let me repeat that, Raku makes foie gras chawanmushi
It's easy now to see why there was such a wait to get into Raku, and why the people already there were reluctant to leave. Raku offers some of the most exciting Japanese food I've had in a while. Los Angeles has at least one known aburiya so I'm eager to see how my more local offerings can compare to this Las Vegas treasure, but it's evident that Raku has set the bar very high.