Japanese cuisine is largely misunderstood in this country. Ask most people what it is, and their first answer is likely to be something akin to sushi. But in the body of this product-driven seasonal fare, sushi is a mere button on its shirt. And no one has done more to illuminate that fact here than Mitsuo Endo, the chef/owner of Raku. For starters, Raku, which recently expanded from a tiny counter place and chef’s hangout into a full-blown restaurant, has no sushi. If Endo can get his hands on a Japanese commodity (such as sand crabs) he will do so, preparing them with skill and simplicity.
Endo makes his own tofu, a creamy, custard-like suspension, which he tops with ikura, delicate salmon roe and red-pepper puree. His cooked dishes are masterful, done robata-style, on a charcoal grill. There are nearly three dozen choices, all modestly priced: lamb chops, chicken liver, Kobe beef tendon and foie gras, to name just a few.
Appetizers, hot or cold, promote thirst. Endo’s pickles are colorful and salty. His asparagus tempura is masterfully crisp and greaseless. Oden is another component that Endo has brought to the Las Vegas table. It’s an earthy stew, for which you choose the components in advance. There are more than a dozen options here as well, some of which include fish cakes, daikon radish, stuffed Napa cabbage and jellied yams.
Endo’s colleague, Nobu Matsuhisa, may be the man who globalized his own version of Japanese cuisine, but his food is classic fusion. Endo’s food is traditional, and he’s made it not only accessible but necessary for any Las Vegas dining enthusiast.