Raku: My Heart Will Slurp On
Hi!!! Welcome back. Today, we're going to talk about Raku, a Japanese restaurant in the East Village specializing in the art of Udon. What is this mysterious comestible? It's one of Japan's most profound noodle dishes and is characterized by its thick wheat flour noodles.
Udon can be served both hot or cold but the broth can differ from bowl to bowl. A simple bowl of udon will contain a soup of dashi (cooking stock), soy sauce, and mirin (cooking wine). It can then be topped with a myriad of ingredients including, scallions, tempura, eggs, mushrooms, fish cakes, etc. If you're interested in learning a bit more about the history of udon, check out our Udon guide.
PRO TIP: Raku is CASH ONLY. It opens at noon every day and takes no reservations. If you want to get a seat, I'd recommend going right at noon. You don't have to arrive any earlier than that but try to avoid arriving after 12:30pm. It'll be harder to get a seat after that.
FUN FACT: Raku shares the same executive chef (Norihiro Ishizuka) as Kura, an elusive parlor for authentic omakase meals. The exterior of the restaurant is super zen as you can see in the picture above. I liked the noren curtains, which makes the whole experience all the more authentic.
PRO TIP #2: My friend Tiff and I recommend the $5 Sabazushi, a pressed, pickled mackerel sushi. It's lightly torched and ONLY available for dinner. If you want to try Norihiro Ishizuka's sushi without the whole omakase, this sounds like a great way to taste his craftsmanship.
Overall, Raku is one of my favorite restaurants this year. I'm definitely going to visit all the time, especially in the winter. The only sad part about the meal was that it eventually ended. My heart will slurp on...
Also, check out our TsuruTonTan vs. Raku post here: Ngo Your Meal Battle Series TsuruTonTan vs. Raku
Address: 342 E 6th St., New York, NY 10003
Kibinago Furai Five Fried Silver-Stripe Round Herring
Kinpira Gobo Braised Burdock Root
Agedashi Tofu Deep Fried Tofu and Shaved Bonito
Gyunan Udon Washugyu Beef and Tokyo Negi
Niku Udon Beef Short Ribs and Honeycomb Tripe
Organic Hot and Iced Green Tea
To start, Steph and I got the Organic Green Tea (see above). You can choose if you want it hot or cold. I recommend the iced version because it's refreshing to drink with a hot bowl of udon.
For our appetizers, we got the Agedashi Tofu with Shaved Bonito. Agedashi Tofu is firm silky tofu that has been cut into cubes and deep fried until golden brown. It's topped with Bonito Flakes, which is dried and fermented skipjack tuna. It sounds weird but they're full of smoky and savory flavor.
By drying and fermenting the tuna, the moisture is removed and the flavor becomes much more concentrated. When placed on top of hot food, you'll notice that the flakes start to writhe and dance. This is because the flakes are so thin and dry that the moisture or steam will cause the flakes to move.
Raku's Agedashi Tofu was good. It was a decent serving and not oily at all. There was a generous portion of Bonito Flakes on top, which I liked. The fried part of the tofu was a bit soggy but maybe that was my fault for not eating it fast enough.
Next, we got the Kinpira Gobo, or Braised Burdock Root. For those of you who haven't tried Burdock Root, it reminds me a little bit like Lotus Root but more mild and earthy in flavor. It's served cold so it's an energizing appetizer. It's also really healthy for you given its powerful antioxidant properties. Burdock root has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. It can help prevent liver disease and strengthen your lymphatic system!
For our last appetizer, we got the Kibinago Furai. This was my favorite of the three appetizers. It consists of Five Silver-Stripe Round Herring fishes that have been deep fried from head to tail. Each fish was about 10cm in length and you're encouraged to eat the fish whole. Don't worry about any fish bones because those are so small and soft that you won't really notice they're there.
The Kibinago Furai are mildly fishy and crunchy in texture. I recommend enjoying it with some squeezed lemon. You won't be disappointed.
Finally, for the main event, we're going to talk about the udon. Steph got the Gyunan Udon. It comes with Washugyu Beef. Washugyu is a cross-breed of American Angus and Japanese Wagyu. The meat is a bit more tender and seems to have better marbling than regular Angus meat. However, once you've had the real Kobe beef, this doesn't even compare. But, I think it's good quality meat for Sukiyaki or Udon.
The udon also comes with Tokyo Negi, which is a type of onion. It looks like a giant scallion and has a pungent onion-like taste.
For myself, I got the Niku Udon, which comes with Beef Short Ribs and Honeycomb Tripe. Its aroma draws attention as soon as it enters the room. This hot, steaming bowl of udon is not unfamiliar to double takes and eye batting behavior from the other patrons. The short ribs are perfectly tender with unforeseen fattiness. The honeycomb tripe is soft, firm, and adept at soaking up the juices of the broth.
However, Raku's key to success is the quality of their noodles. Slightly flatter than other udons I've had, these noodles are conducive to soaking up the flavor of the broth. They're silky and smooth in texture but still firm enough to bestow an al dente bounce in each bite.