Restaurant: Totoraku [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]
Location: 10610 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064.
Date: March 12, 2014
Cuisine: Japanese Yakiniku
Rating: Best beef in town!
About twice a year my Hedonist group makes a regular pilgrimage to Totoraku, LA’s “secret beef” restaurant. Toto (as its affectionatly known ) serves a refined version of Japanese Yakiniku, which is Beef BBQ originally from Korea but filtered through Japanese sensibility.
This time, after some of our 30 person mega dinners, we kept it to just 11 people and vetted the wines to an even higher standard, basically close to 100 points, high pedigree, age, or some combination thereof. As you’ll see, we really tore it up and in terms of pure pleasure this was the most epic Hedonist event yet.
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!
NV Billecart-Salmon Rose. Parker 90. The NV Brut Rose emerges from the glass with the essence of freshly cut flowers, berries and minerals in a mid-weight, gracious style. It shows gorgeous inner perfume, along with persistent notes of chalkiness that frame the long, sublime finish. Year in, year out, this estate’s NV Brut Rose is one of the most consistently outstanding wines in the region.
On the left abalone (very tender), special marinated okra, and in the middle a yellowtail avocado roll.
2006 Agrapart & Fils Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Venus. Parker 95. The 2006 Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Venus brings together the best qualities of the house style. Rich yet weightless, the Venus impresses for its refined, layered personality. Sweet floral notes, Chamomile, spices and citrus resonate with tons of class and sheer personality. This is yet another great showing from Agrapart. The Venus is made from a tiny parcel in Avize measuring just 0.3 hectares and is farmed entirely by the horse for whom the wine is named.
Uni risotto balls on the right.
Shrimp with endive and caviar.
Mozzarella (or burrata?) with a bit of fruit and fish. On the right a very soft gelatinous thing that probably had some crab in it.
1970 Latour. Parker 98-85. The aromas suggest this wine has peaked with dusty notes of old leather, dried figs and grandma’s room. The tannins have gone a little powdery with the medium+ level of acidity taking centre stage in front of the remaining bits of fruit. Medium to long finish. Perhaps slightly past it but still provides an interesting glass.
agavin: I put in the unusual reverse order because this is a wine in decline, and even Parker has noted it. Our bottle tasted like chocolate coffee syrup. It was interesting, but pretty far gone.
Beef carpaccio with special salt, flowers, and some onion family derivative. Very yummy. This is eaten raw.
1985 Mouton-Rothschild. Parker 90. The rich, complex, well-developed bouquet of oriental spices, toasty oak, herbs, and ripe fruit is wonderful. On the palate, the wine is also rich, forward, long, and sexy. It ranks behind both Haut-Brion and Chateau Margaux in 1985. I am surprised by how evolved and ready to drink this wine is. Readers looking for a big, boldly constructed Mouton should search out other vintages, as this is a tame, forward, medium-weight wine that is close to full maturity. It is capable of lasting another 15+ years. This estate compares their 1985 to their 1959, but to me it is more akin to their 1962 or 1953.
agavin: Our bottle was in great shape and drinking very nicely. Still, this won’t be getting any better.
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.
1988 Lafleur. Parker 93. Consistently one of the strongest candidates for the wine of the vintage, Lafleur’s 1988 has a dark plum/ruby color and a gorgeous nose of white flowers intermixed with kirsch liqueur and raspberries. The wine is full-bodied, sweet, round, and beautifully pure, with moderate tannin, medium to full body, and great elegance and complexity. This wine has come around faster than I would have thought.
agavin: Still needs some time, but was pretty darn nice!
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.
2004 Coche-Dury Meursault. Burghound 91. Soft mineral reduction does not materially detract from the green fruit, citrus, stone and slightly smoky nose that introduces detailed, pure and attractively intense middle weight flavors that possess excellent vibrancy on the taut, linear and refined finish. This isn’t quite as complex or concentrated as the ’02 version (see herein) but the sheer persistence is most impressive. And in the same fashion as the 2002, this has reached an inflection point of maturity where it could be enjoyed now or held for a few more years depending on how one prefers aged white burgs. For my taste, I would hold this for another 2 to 4 years but many people will find the current state of maturity to be perfect now.
agavin: Burghound must hold Coche up to some very high magical standard, because even though this is a village wine it was fabulous, reduced, and just plain hedonistic.
As any regular Totoraku goer knows, any new dish is a big deal here, as the menu is very consistent. This is one of TWO new specials chef Kaz whipped up for us tonight, Sawara, a kind of Spanish Mackerel. It is considered the best kind of Mackerel in Japan. Not only it is a big variety, but its comparatively white flesh is succulent in almost any kind of cooking! Here we have it miso marinated and raw. We lightly seared it on the grill and enjoyed!
Awesome and very rich!
2004 Chave Hermitage Blanc. Parker 95. The 2004 Hermitage blanc, which hit 15% natural alcohol, is another superb effort, continuing a succession of totally profound white Hermitages from 2003, 2004, and 2005. As many readers know, this small family producer has been making wine in Hermitage since 1481! The 2004 (about 1000 cases) reveals a light gold color, terrific finesse and elegance in spite of its enormous power, unctuosity, and richness. Of course, it is not as honeyed as the otherworldly 2003 (which hit 16% natural alcohol) but it is an amazingly full-bodied, powerful wine with pervasive honeysuckle, peach liqueur, and nectarine notes intermixed with licorice, quince, and acacia flowers. This is gorgeous wine which should evolve for 20-25 years.
agavin: Unfortunately our bottle was a little corked or oxidized.
Beef tongue with salt. After cooking, you dip it in lemon juice.
1989 Lynch Bages. 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. It should prove to be a 50 year wine.
agavin: Best Lynch ever, and still an awesome monster.
Filet Mignon with bell peppers, onions, and sisho pepper.
1989 Latour. Parker 89. Neither the 1989 or 1990 wines has budged in quality or development since I first tasted them in cask. I am still disappointed by the 1989, wondering how this chateau produced an elegant, medium-weight wine that seems atypically restrained for Latour. The deep ruby color is followed by a wine with surprisingly high acidity and hard tannin, but not the depth, richness, and power expected from this great estate. This closed wine is admittedly in need of 5-6 years of cellaring, but what is so alarming is its lack of weight, ripeness, and intensity, particularly when compared to the 1990. I suspect there is more than what has been revealed in recent tastings, but this looks to be an excellent as opposed to outstanding wine. In the context of the vintage, it is a disappointment.
agavin: I’d certainly give our bottle better than an 89, but I’d probably agree that Lynch made a better wine in 89!
Outside rib eye with special salt and garlic.
The inside rib eye on the grill.
1998 Lafite-Rothschild. Parker 98. A blend of 81% Cabernet Sauvignon and 19% Merlot, this wine represents only 34% of Lafite’s total harvest. In a less than perfect Medoc vintage, it has been spectacular since birth, putting on more weight and flesh over the last year. This opaque purple-colored 1998 is close to perfection. The spectacular nose of lead pencil, smoky, mineral, and black currant fruit soars majestically from the glass. The wine is elegant yet profoundly rich, revealing the essence of Lafite’s character. The tannin is sweet, and the wine is spectacularly layered yet never heavy. The finish is sweet, super-rich, yet impeccably balanced and long (50+ seconds).
agavin: This was a contentious wine at our table. I loved it, thinking it had tons of complex character. Some thought it was corked (there was a hint on the nose but I didn’t taste it).
Short rib. It was certainly good, very salted.
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.
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.
From my cellar: 2000 Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape Hommage A Jacques Perrin. Parker 97. The 2000 Chateauneuf du Pape Hommage a Jacques Perrin is a blend of 60% Mourvedre, 20% Grenache, 10% Counoise, and 10% Syrah, the standard blend for this cuvee except for the 1998, which had 60% Grenache and only 20% Mourvedre. The 2000 possesses an impenetrable black/purple color as well as a sumptuous bouquet of melted licorice, creosote, new saddle leather, blackberry and cherry fruit as well as roasted meats. Sweet and full-bodied, with great intensity, huge power, and a finish that lasts for 67 seconds by my watch, this is an amazing tour de force in winemaking. Even in a flattering, forward-styled vintage such as 2000, it will need 7-8 years of cellaring.
agavin: I’m biased, but this was my favorite wine of the night. It was just staggering.
1982 Penfolds Grange. Parker 97. The 1982 is another superb example of that. One of the jammiest, most precocious Granges when it was released, it has never gone through a closed stage and continues to drink beautifully. A full-bodied, opulent Grange, it reveals an inky/purple color to the rim as well as a beautiful nose of crushed blueberries, blackberries, smoke, toast, roasted herbs, and road tar. This dense, plush, expansive, seamless, seductive 1982 has not changed much since I had it nearly a decade ago.
agavin: Also fab, but amazingly (for a 32 year old), it could go for decades more.
You have to special order the lamb, which like all of Kaz’s meats, is pretty wonderful.
One hell of a chop.
2004 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto. Parker 96. Giacosa’s 2004 Barolo Falletto is so compelling it will be hard not to drink it in its youth. This gorgeous Barolo reveals a deeply structured frame layered with sweet dark fruit, mint, spice and pine. At once delicate and powerful, it is a beautifully finessed wine that is sure to provide much pleasure. A recent bottle of the 1982 is a testament to the virtues of this great site as interpreted by Bruno Giacosa.
agavin: too young.
2002 Torbreck Run Rig. Parker 99. The 2002 Run Rig (97% Shiraz and 3% Viognier aged in 100% new French oak) represents the essence of old vine Barossa fruit. Extraordinarily opulent and rich, but playing it closer to the vest than the 2001, it gets my nod as one of the most remarkable wines made in either the Southern or Northern Hemisphere. An inky/purple color is accompanied by a sumptuous bouquet of apricots, honeysuckle, black raspberries, blackberries, licorice, and a hint of roasted meats. The wood has been soaked up by the wine’s extraordinary concentration. Fashioned from four sectors of Barossa (Maranaga, Koonunga Hill, Moppa, and Greenock), it spent 30 months in primarily new oak, and was bottled without fining or filtration.
agavin: also massive and delicious.
Here is our second “newcommer” for tonight. Bacon!!!!! Specially marinated.
2001 Schrader Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard. Parker 99. More mature and evolved (or maybe it just has more to it), the 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To-Kalon Vineyard tastes like a great vintage of Pontet-Canet or Mouton Rothschild. This profound Napa Cabernet Sauvignon reveals gorgeous notes of creme de cassis, a celestial floral and espresso character, an inky/purple color, a dense full-bodied mouthfeel and hints of wood smoke and a volcanic/burning ember note. Quite intense with a prodigious mouthfeel and a nearly 60-second finish, this wine can be drunk now or cellared for another quarter of a century. Bravo!
Hmm, can’t remember which meat this was. Too much wine!
Or this one.
1978 Rieussec. Parker 82. The 1978 Rieussec just missed the mark. While quite good, it is not special. Too alcoholic, and a trifle too heavy and overblown, this wine has a nice honeyed character and rich, unctuous flavors, but evidences little botrytis.
agavin: Parker didn’t love it. It certainly isn’t perfect, but we sure enjoyed it!
There was also a 1903 port that I forgot to photo! The bottle was two thirds empty from evaporation but the wine was amazing.
Toto serves homemade ice creams and sorbets as dessert.
So chaotic was this giant night that they brought out all five flavors on each plate and just placed them about the tables. I like the ice creams better than the sorbets here. The white chocolate was fantastic. Still, it’s all great.
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 evening was our best time yet. The limited number of people (11), the quality of the wines, and our discipline in pouring them in order really upped the ante. Toto is always fun, but when we have 25-30 people it’s so crazy you can’t even keep track of the wines (let alone the conversation). In that circumstance if someone grabs a bottle away it’s gone forever. Here, it will go around easily and still have a couple inches left for seconds.
We also struck up a couple conversations at adjacent tables and swapped some wines (scoring an 89 Mouton and something else great).
A spectacular evening — really, truly, deeply epic. It was about 5 hours of mind boggling wines and crazy beef.
More crazy Hedonist adventures or