Totoraku undoubtedly serves up the finest yakiniku this side of the Pacific Ocean. Dining here is on an invitation-only basis. If you know the chef/owner, you’re in. If you know someone who knows the chef/owner and brings you, you’re in. If you know someone who’s dined here before and was given a business card and brings you, you’re in. I think you get the picture. So maybe “secret beef restaurant is a misnomer. I mean the place has its own Yelp page, correct address, phone number and all. I guess it should be known as the “Dine-By-Invitation-Only Beef Restaurant.” I was told that if you call the restaurant, they will pretend not to be a restaurant. I don’t know if that’s still true, but you definitely won’t be able to make a reservation being some random Joe off the street.
Smooth Obturator and Triple T have dined here many times, but always in the company of their friends Tiny T and Oishi Nazi, the latter of whom is personal friends with Oyama-san (chef/owner). They gathered once again so that Triple F, Running Man, and I could experience beef like we’ve never had it before.
Before the onslaught of meat, came a dizzying array of appetizers. Keep in mind, there is no menu, so I’m just going off the very brief descriptions given by our server.
Foie Gras on Quail Egg (left) A well balanced richness between 2 very rich things.
Tomato on Mozzarella (right) A light creaminess with a sweet tart finish from the tomato.
I don’t think I’m a fan of monkfish, it tastes like a fish foie gras. The jellyfish tasted similar to the kind at dim sum with a slight vinegary tang. Both elements merried well together in my mouth.
Pear prosciutto (from clockwise) The sweet crunchy pear contrasted with the salty cured prosciutto.
Abalone I can’t remember much from this one.
Black Sesame Jelly wasabi, gold flakes Tasted like the inside of a steamed bun filled with bean paste, except this tasted like sesame. I was expecting a big bang from the wasabi, but I didn’t taste much. Maybe it wasn’t wasabi?
Caviar on Vegetable Jelly Interesting gelatinous concoction, topped with a very light caviar.
Tofu, Shrimp, and Persimmon Salad Like a reinvented potato salad, but with sweet persimmons.
Salmon Wrapped Soba Noodles It looked like a sushi roll but with the carbs wrapped in the protein.
The appetizers served as a beautiful display of Oyama-san’s creativity as a chef. Every bite was original and so different from everything that was yet to come.
Short Rib Carpaccio
Although incredibly simple, this may have been one of my favorite dishes of the night. Each tender, thin slice was so flavorful. I’m not quite sure what was used for seasoning, but there was definitely some very tasty salt, maybe sea salt? The light sprinkling of herbs, maybe fennel or onions, and olive oil was so subtle but enhanced every bite of the wonderfully marbled short rib.
So simple, but spot on!
Beef Tataki (left) The tataki had a nice little smokiness while still showcasing the rarity of the meat.
Beef Throat Sashimi (right) Oishi Nazi said that he’s never had this anywhere else. It was truly a unique cut of meat. I didn’t even know the throat was something edible. It was like eating a meatier cut of sashimi. Do not be appalled by all the raw meat. Aside from the texture and cool temperature, you would never know you were eating raw meat. Everything was deftly seasoned for the enhancement of the natural beef flavor rather than to cover up any raw taste. There was certainly a bit of chew to throat meat which I actually liked.
Smoked Beef Tongue
Who likes beef tongue?? I do!! From what I know of anatomy, tongue is a muscle without any fat. Somehow though, tongue has a luscious richness in each bite. It was definitely more pronounced in the grilled beef tongue, but there was no doubt this smoked version came from the mouth of a cow.
This was a popular dish at the table. The tartare was mixed on arrival to the table. The differing components of egg yolk, daikon, cucumber, yams were all combined with a delicate sweet soy flavoring that I think was already marinated into the meat. It made for a wonderful few bites of refreshing meat. I never described meat as refreshing before!
The raw meats and accoutrements for the yakiniku were making its way to our table. First off, the simplest of simple tomato salads. Do not be fooled. A lot of actual cooking went into this dish, per Oishi Nazi. The tomatoes were peeled and chopped. They were inherently sweet, but there were other seasonings added I’m sure I just couldn’t identify what they were. Or maybe the tomatoes were that naturally tasty!
Vegetables lettuce, cabbage, carrots, daikon, cucumbers
Pretty standard fare for yakiniku. These were really appreciated when I hit meat overload and needed something to munch on to clean the palate and lighten things up a bit.
Sweet, salty, made for great dipping with the veggies.
Dipping Sauces sweet soy, lemon juice, soy sauce
The meat was so deliciously prepared and seasoned that dipping sauces were hardly necessary.
I have not had a lot of beef tongue in my life, so when I say this is the highest quality, meatiest, freshest version of tongue I’ve had, please take it with a grain of salt. Then again, everyone else at the table seemed to fall in love with the tongue too. There’s just something unique about tongue. It’s texture is something crunchy but tender at the same time. This cut was to be dipped in the lemon juice, which served to cut some of that inherent fatty flavor down a bit.
From here on out, every cut of meat was incredible tender and so deliciously flavorful. The marinade was very light, so I think most of the flavor came from the meat itself. Oyama-san sources his meat from here in the US, and only says he uses some sort of “hybrid” cow, whatever that means. Sometimes filet can taste just like a blob of meat with no oomph, but there was plenty of that here.
Outside Rib Eye
Drooool! Nobody loves rib eye more than me! What does outside mean? I have no idea, but it was damn good. It was not heavily marbled but every bite tasted so sinfully good and oh so tender!
Inside Rib Eye
Being thinner cuts of meat, this part of the rib eye cooked up quite quickly. Though this was probably not as meaty as the outside rib eye it was probably more unctious.
There was some impressive marbling in the short rib as noted before in the short rib carpaccio. The fat in the meat created a nice crispy rich flavor when grilled up.
This was the most flavorful preparation of meat due to the heavier marinade which had stronger hints of soy and sesame. There was a recurring theme of delicate sweetness in all the meats that came from something other than sugar, maybe mirin? Anyways, I liked the skirt steak for its meatier texture and stronger seasoning.
The meal ended with a contrasting soup that was extremely light on flavor, heat, and salt but served as a good finale to all the meat. Kuppa is a Japanese version of “gukbap” which literally means soup with rice. True to its name, there was a small scoop of rice that merried well into the soup to make a light porridge. Swimming in the soup was egg, green veggies, and onions. By this point I was totally stuffed and only had a little bit of soup.
Ice Cream/Sorbet lychee, espresso, white chocolate rasberry, pistachio, blueberry
No matter how full I am, I’ve come to appreciate that a meal must always end with something sweet left on the palate. Here we had a simple assortment of ice creams and sorbets. There wasn’t anything terribly impressive about the ice cream. The sorbets were too icy for me, but I really liked the white chocolate rasberry ice cream in the end.
The meal was impressive from start to finish. Oyama-san really knows his beef, from the selection to the seasoning. He artfully showcased his skill to take a heavier meat like beef and transform it into something delicate and special. My mouth is watering just thinking about all that deliciousness that I was so priviledged to partake in. Was it all really worth the $150 per head cost ($175 if you include tax and tip)? I’m not quite sure. It was certainly a meal and an occasion to remember. I probably will go back here someday, mostly because I CAN! Oyama-san gave me, as well as everyone else his business card, which means you’re welcome back. He may not remember me, but I will remember to quote the exact time and day that I dined and my company and I think I’ll be ok.
Shout out to Smooth Obturator and the many other members of the H.o.P. who pretty much make this blog possible, bankrolling many of my meals, like the one here. A meal like this would leave my piggybank as a sad pile of rubble. This rings in as my most expensive meal to date!