Restaurant: Totoraku [1, 2, 3]
Location: 10610 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064.
Date: November 1, 2012
Cuisine: Japanese Yakiniku
Rating: Best beef in town!
The Hedonists ride again, this time to my favorite Japanese beef joint, Totoraku. I‘ve reviewed this peculiar (but fantastic) invitation only restaurant before. It serves a very refined version of Japanese Yakiniku, which is Beef BBQ originally from Korea but filtered through Japanese sensibility.
The outside is basically a shell. The “Teriyaki House” has nothing to do with the food within, and the phone number is incorrect. The place is like a beef speakeasy!
At Hedonist events everyone brings a bottle of two of great wine. We open with this champagne. The NV Brut Rose is a pretty, gracious wine. Freshly cut roses, red berries and spices take shape nicely in the glass as the wine shows off its understated, timeless personality. Billecart-Salmon’s NV Brut Rose is a reliably tasty wine.
The only thing that really changes at Totoraku is this impressive looking appetizer spread. This is for four people. Everyone gets a bite sized bit of each.
Sockeye salmon wrapped in jicama, with avocado and a kind of soba.
Melon and salami, a different take on the classic.
Hard boiled qual egg stuffed with cod row and crab. Tasted like a deviled egg!
Really tender fresh abalone with yuzu pepper.
Shrimp on radicchio with caviar.
Chef Kaz and his assistant plating the food in the kitchen.
This older 1984 Grace Family Cab was a surprisingly fresh entrée into the world of reds.
Beef carpaccio with special salt, flowers, and some onion family derivative. Very yummy. This is eaten raw.
We moved up to a more recent vintage of the same wine. Parker 90. “The 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon (260 cases) offers plenty of up-front sweet black currant fruit mixed with toasty new oak and mineral characteristics. It is medium-bodied, plump, and accessible, revealing good fruit in its subtle, restrained personality.”
Two kinds of beef sashimi, eaten nearly raw. On the left beef tataki (rib eye) and on the right (in the cup) beef throat sashimi. Also on the plate is a bit of Korean style hot sauce (the red stuff), some intensely strong garlic (yum) and micro julienned ginger.
The throat was very chewy, more about texture. The rib eye soft and more flavorful. All went well with the garlic and ginger — I particularly liked the garlic.
A new release from Vega Sicilia, Spain’s most renowned winery, is the 1995 Valbuena (magnum). A plum/ruby color is followed by aromas of sweet black fruits intermixed with licorice, earth, and spicy oak. Full-bodied, with excellent concentration, a juicy, layered texture, and fine purity, it is forward and plush.
A raw beef dish. Marinated raw beef is seen here with ginger, raw egg, cucumber, daikon, pine nuts, and something orange. Apparently, this is a Korean dish called Yukhoe. Actually, I’ve had it at Korean places, but in any case it’s delicious.
The elements are mixed together and then eaten. It’s hard to describe why it’s so good, but it is, with a very complex flavor and texture interplay.
One of my favorites. Parker 99+! “The 1989 has taken forever to shed its formidable tannins, but what a great vintage of Lynch Bages! I would rank it at the top of the pyramid although the 1990, 2000, and down the road, some of the more recent vintages such as 2005, 2009 and 2010 should come close to matching the 1989’s extraordinary concentration and undeniable aging potential. Its dense purple color reveals a slight lightening at the edge and the stunning bouquet offers classic notes of creme de cassis, subtle smoke, oak and graphite. Powerful and rich with some tannins still to shed at age 22, it is still a young adolescent in terms of its evolution and will benefit from another 4-5 years of cellaring.”
Don’t put your tongue on the grill!
BBQ to perfect, and add a bit of scallions, then dip in lemon juice and enjoy. This is about the most tender tongue I’ve had (and I’ve had plenty). It’s still a dense slightly rubbery texture, but delicious.
Parker 89, “The 1988 has an aroma of exotic spices, minerals, blackcurrants, and oak. In the mouth, it is a much firmer, tougher, more obviously tannic wine than the 1989. It is a beautifully made 1988 that will last 20-30 years, but the astringency of the tannins is slightly troubling. Patience will be a necessity for purchasers of this wine.”
I agree with Parker, this was full of heavy duty Bordeaux-style sour tannins. Not really a very pleasant effort.
Filet Mignon with bell peppers, onions, and sisho pepper.
93 points, “Deep garnet purple color. Aromas of chocolate malt, vanilla, berry pie, and toffee with a supple dryish medium-to-full and a craisin, pencil shaving, baked apple, brown spice, and earth with chewy tannins. Very nicely balanced and elegant.”
Parker 91, “The medium to dark ruby-colored 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon Champoux Vineyard displays creamy, sweet, Connecticut white corn, and black cherry aromas. Medium to full-bodied and satin-textured, it is an intense, blackberry and dark cherry-flavored wine. This expressive, flavorful offering has outstanding follow-through from its attack to its long, seamless, and focused finish.”
Momotaro tomatoes with a vinaigrette. These are supposedly incredibly good tomatoes, as a hater, I didn’t try them. I think Oyama-san gets them from some special place in Orange Country.
The “salad.” Cucumbers, carrots, daikon.
They are served with this spicy sweet miso dip. The vegetables do help to move along the fat and protein heavy meat.
Parker 95, “There are 475 cases of the 2007 IX Syrah Estate, which offers up flowery, roasted meat, balsamic, tar, and blackberry characteristics in a full-bodied format. The wine reveals sweet tannin, and layers of fruit, including a note of lavender that emerges as the wine sits in the glass. It should drink well for a decade.”
We also had a Colgin Cab, but I can’t remember what year and I missed taking a picture of it.
From my cellar: Parker 96, “The 1995 is spectacular. When Emmanuel Reynaud said it was evolving quickly, in essence repudiating this vintage, I immediately drank two bottles of this glorious elixir. It does not reveal the over-ripeness of the 1990, bringing to mind a hypothetical blend of the great 1989 and 1978. Deeply-colored and still young, with black currant/creme de cassis-like characteristics, huge body, yet great structure and delineation, this is a classic Rayas that is totally different than the 1990. It should continue to improve in the bottle and may merit an even higher score. While it can be drunk now, it will be even better with 3-4 years of cellaring.”
Outside rib eye with special salt and garlic.
Parker 94+, “A very great wine, the dark garnet-hued 1980. Still a young wine at age 29, it exhibits massive earthy, meaty, bacon fat notes intermixed with notions of scorched earth, blackberries, currants, pepper, and spice. Full and rich with slightly rustic tannins, it has a good 20 years of life ahead of it.
Grange, Penfolds’ flagship wine, is, by many accounts, the most renowned and world-famous wine produced in Australia, and these six vintages from my cellar all acquitted themselves well. These wines are almost always Shiraz, but many vintages include less than 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and there are cross-appellations blends from vineyards in the Barossa and McLaren Vale.”
Parker 95-98, “The 1998 Syrah E-Raised is great stuff. The blended Syrah comes from different vineyard sources, primarily the Alban Vineyard in San Luis Obispo, and Bien Nacido and Stolpman Vineyards in Santa Barbara. These wines are always amusingly named (Black and Blue, Against the Wall, Imposter McCoy). All the components were tasted, and even the least impressive cuvee was tipping my olfactory and sensual charts at 93 and 94 points, with the finest cuvees ranging up near perfect 97 or 98 point totals. It is black-colored, jammy and super-intense with awesome concentration, terrific, chewy, explosive flavors of blackberries, cherries, and cassis interfused with creosote, pepper, and vanillin. All the cuvees are gorgeously pure, thick, and rich. As they sit in the glass, notes of roasted coffee, licorice, smoke, and barbecue spices emerge, giving them another dimension of complexity. It is hard to make a prediction at this point, given how sensational previous vintages have been, but it would not surprise me to see the 1998 Syrah turn out to be the finest yet from Sine Qua Non.”
I’ve been to Toto at least 10 times, but this is the first time I’ve ever had the lamb, which like all of Kaz’s meats, is pretty wonderful.
This was really a loaner from a neighboring table, but we drank some anyway. 1,000 thanks!
Parker 96-100, “During its first 10-12 years of life, this was a perfect wine, but it now seems to be in a stage where the fruit is still present, but the previous exuberance and intensity have faded slightly. There is plenty of amber at the edge, and this medium to full-bodied wine shows notes of menthol, cedar, spice box, plums, and black cherries. Owners of 750 ml bottles should plan on consuming it over the next 4-6 years. Magnums should be less evolved, and merit a score 4 to 6 points higher.”
From my cellar: Parker 96, “What sumptuous pleasures await those who purchase either the 1996 or 1995 Pichon-Lalande. It is hard to choose a favorite, although the 1995 is a smoother, more immediately sexy and accessible wine. It is an exquisite example of Pichon-Lalande with the Merlot component giving the wine a coffee/chocolatey/cherry component to go along with the Cabernet Sauvignon’s and Cabernet Franc’s complex blackberry/cassis fruit. The wine possesses an opaque black/ruby/purple color, and sexy, flamboyant aromatics of pain grille, black fruits, and cedar. Exquisite on the palate, this full-bodied, layered, multidimensional wine should prove to be one of the vintage’s most extraordinary success stories.”
“Special” beef. I think it was a form of sirloin. It was certainly good, very salted.
Another loaner (they sure had great wine). Parker 98, “A magnificent example of Chateau Margaux and one of the most tannic, backward Margauxs of the last 50 years, the 1986 continues to evolve at a glacial pace. The color is still a dense ruby/purple with just a hint of lightening at the rim. With several hours of aeration, the aromatics become striking, with notes of smoke, toast, creme de cassis, mineral, and white flowers. Very full-bodied, with high but sweet tannin, great purity, and a very masculine, full-bodied style, this wine should prove nearly immortal in terms of its aging potential. It is beginning to budge from its infantile stage and approach adolescence.”
And the final loaner. This was a total stunner. Parker 100, “For the fourth time, the Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee da Capo has been produced, and for the fourth time, it has received a perfect score although I might back off the 2000’s perfect score based on the fact that it seems to be more of an upper-ninety point wine than pure perfection these days. The 2003 Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee da Capo has distanced itself ever so slightly from the 2003 Cuvee Reservee. Before bottling and immediately after bottling, these two wines’ differences were not as evident. At present the Capo reveals that extra level of flavor, power, complexity and richness. It is a big wine (16.1% alcohol – less than in the 1998, but more than in the 2000 and 2007) boasting a dark plum/garnet color as well as a stunning bouquet of aged beef intermixed with pepper, herbes de Provence, and steak au poivre. This unctuously textured, full-bodied Chateauneuf possesses enormous body, huge flavors and sweet, velvety tannins. Still youthful, it has not yet begun to close down, and I’m not sure it ever will given this unusual vintage. It is a modern day classic that should continue to provide provocative as well as compelling drinking for 20-30+ years.”
This is a tasty but sometimes tough cut. Not here, soft as butter.
An unusual dessert wine from the town of Massandra in the Crimea which was an ancient Greek settlement. The Tzar had a palace here and for centuries they made special wine for the royal family. Raisin in a glass, this particular vintage must have been served up to Stalin!
Toto serves homemade ice creams and sorbets as dessert.
White chocolate and expresso. I like the ice creams better than the sorbets here. The white chocolate was fantastic.
Chef/Owner Kaz Oyama on the left, Hedonist organizer Yarom on the right with the cigar.
And this place IS all about the beef, which is arguably some of the best I’ve ever had. Certainly the best yakiniku/Korean BBQ I’ve ever had. There is a perfect tenderness to every cut that’s fairly transcendant. I’m not even that much of a steak fan — but I’d take this stuff any time over even a spectacular cut from Mastros or Cut. The food here does not vary much from visit to visit. There is no menu. The quality however is utterly consistant. So while it isn’t an everyday sort of dining experience, perhaps once every 6-9 months, I love to return for my fix.
This was a spectacular evening with some really great meat, amazing wines, and good company!
For other Foodie Club meals, click here.