Restaurant: Totoraku [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]
Location: 10610 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064.
Date: September 2, 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 affectionately known) serves a refined version of Japanese Yakiniku, which is Beef BBQ originally from Korea but filtered through Japanese sensibility.
This time, we’re back to a 30 person mega dinner, quite the madness. It was so crazy that I’m going to list all the wine at the end because there was no progression, just a free-for-all.
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!
A very soft gelatinous thing that probably had some crab in it, certainly veggies.
Shrimp with endive and caviar.
Snapper rolled around vegetables.
Salmon wrapped in daikon, stuffed with avocado and other vegetables.
Ham with fresh fig! (delicious)
Beef carpaccio with special salt, flowers, and some onion family derivative. Very yummy. This is eaten raw.
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 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.
The tabletop grill we cook the rest of the dishes on.
Beef tongue with salt. After cooking, you dip it in lemon juice.
Filet Mignon with bell peppers, onions, and sisho pepper.
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.
Outside rib eye with special salt and garlic.
The outside rib eye on the grill.
The inside rib eye on the grill. Probably my favorite cut.
This was a special pork that Kaz made up for us. Most people get the exact same repertoire of dishes and we are lucky to get at least one special every time.
The pork cooking up. This was a wonderful bit of meat, a bit like Jose Andres’ Iberica pork loin.
You have to special order the lamb, which like all of Kaz’s meats, is pretty wonderful.
“Special” beef. I think it was a form of sirloin. It was certainly good, very salted.
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.
Just a small portion of the crazy.
I’m detailing all the wine below. I missed photoing a whole bunch of bottles (even a Margaux!) and other than starting with the single white and ending with the dessert wine, there was no real order. Just grab as you like. We had so many extra bottles and so many magnums that almost nothing ran out quickly, so there was no probably getting a good taste. Just a problem finding a spare glass to hold it!
2004 Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet. Burghound 93. A pure, elegant and transparent nose trimmed in noticeable but not intrusive wood leads to big, rich and powerful medium weight plus flavors blessed with ample dry extract and that coats the palate on the impressively long, complex and mouth coating finish. This is still relatively primary and thus despite the premature oxidation risk, I would be inclined to leave it in the cellar for another 2 to 4 years though I stress that it would not be complete infanticide to open this now. I note the premature oxidation risk because another bottle that I opened did in fact have a hint of butterscotch on the nose and while not enough to spoil the experience, it was certainly less interesting than it would otherwise be.
2013 Coudert Fleurie Clos de la Roilette Cuvée Tardive. 93 points. A beautiful, well-balanced Gamay, with dark but not heavy fruit, smooth and delicious.
1994 Gaja Barbaresco. 92 points. brillant red color , red fruits and spices , after half hour also come the coffee and chocolate . On the palate is round with smooth but still perceptible tannins , it seem younger , great and vibrant acidity.
1986 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Riserva Falletto. Parker 97. The revelation of the night, Giacosa’s 1986 Falletto Riserva is also one of my all-time favorites from this producer. It is a stunning Barolo, displaying a classic, deep nose of roses, tar, and smoke followed by massive amounts of dark, sweet fruit wrapped around a tight core of iron-like minerality, with tremendous structure, length, and freshness on the finish. This superb, multi-dimensional Barolo appears to still be a few years away from its peak, and should offer profound drinking until at least age 30 and probably beyond. An awesome effort.
agavin: fine fine wine — and still profoundly young.
1997 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Ornellaia. Parker 95. The 1997 Ornellaia (magnum) is a big, fat wine endowed with tons of fruit. Mocha, coffee beans and ripe, dark fruit emerge from the glass on a rich, opulent frame. The structural elements are easy to overlook, as the tannins are so juicy and ripe, and the fruit is incredibly intense. Simply put, everything is in the right place. Not surprisingly, 1997 is the year Ornellaia introduced their second wine, Le Serre Nuove, and the extra selection that was carried out to produce this wine has paid off big time. The 1997 is also the first Ornellaia in which Merlot is a full 30% of the blend, while Cabernet Sauvignon is 65% and Cabernet Franc is 5%. It is also the first year in which the percentage of new oak is 50%. In many ways, the 1997 is a wine that signals a move towards the more extroverted style that is common here these days. The 1997 Ornellaia, like many wines from Tuscany that year, is marked by a unique growing season that saw an April frost lower yields dramatically, followed by a hot, dry summer which concentrated the remaining fruit to a levels not seen previously. It remains a magnificent example of this Tuscan classic. Anticipated maturity: 2009-2017.
2006 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Masseto. Parker 99. I can still remember nearly falling out of my chair the first time I tasted the 2006 Masseto (100% Merlot) from barrel. The wine is now in bottle, and it is every bit as monumental as I had hoped. The wine possesses staggering richness in a style that perfectly captures the essence of this great Tuscan vintage. Black cherries, flowers, licorice and sweet toasted oak are just some of the nuances that emerge from the 2006 Masseto. A wine of breathtaking depth, it also reveals superb clarity, freshness and vibrancy in a sumptuous, beautifully-balanced style. Simply put, the 2006 Masseto is a masterpiece from Tenuta dell’ Ornellaia. According to Agronomist/General Manager Leonardo Raspini the dryness of the vintage slowed down the maturation of the sugars, leaving the wine with an unusually high level of acidity, and therefore freshness, considering its overall ripeness. Anticipated maturity: 2016-2031.
1970 Montrose. Parker 87-92. A blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, this was considered a brilliant vintage at the time, but looking back, most 1970s are slightly austere with aggressive tannins and, possibly unfairly, have never really reached the potential that was predicted for them. Harvest began on September 23 and continued through October11, under extremely fair and hot weather. The alcohol degree was high for the era – between 12.5% and 13.5%. In the tasting, the 1970 showed abundant cedar wood, very masculine, muscular character, with new saddle leather, tobacco leaf, truffle and slightly austere tannins. It is medium-bodied, shows plenty of amber at the edge and seems close to full maturity even though the tannins are never going to fully resolve themselves – a sign of the older style Bordeaux vintages. Drink over the next 10-15 years.
1978 Domaine de Chevalier. Parker 92. Along with the glorious 1970, this is my favorite vintage of Domaine de Chevalier during this decade. The 1978 has consistently been a textbook Graves with a tobacco-tinged, smoky, sweet, cedary, berry, and black currant-scented nose. It is still lusciously fruity, round, and generous. This medium-bodied, exceptionally stylish, elegant wine exhibits the exquisite levels of finesse Domaine de Chevalier can achieve without sacrificing flavor and concentration. Anticipated maturity: Now-2005.
1989 Montrose. Parker 98+. This was not in the tasting at the chateau, but I opened two bottles on my return home, because this is another near-perfect wine from Montrose. It is an unusual two-grade blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. The wine emerged from another very hot, sunny, dry growing season, with early, generous flowering. Harvest in Montrose took place between September 11 and 28. The wine has never had any issues with brett, making it a somewhat safer selection than the more irregular 1990. Like a tortoise, the 1989 has finally begun to rival and possibly eclipse its long-time younger sibling, the 1990. The wine is absolutely spectacular and in auction sells for a much lower premium than the 1990. That should change. This is a magnificent Montrose, showing notes of loamy soil undertones, intermixed with forest floor, blueberry and blackberry liqueur and spring flowers. It has a full-bodied, intense, concentrated mouthfeel that is every bit as majestic as the 1990, but possibly slightly fresher and more delineated. This great wine should drink well for another 40-50 years.
1990 Vieux Chateau Certan. Parker 94. This was a very strong vintage for Vieux Chateau Certan. The 1990 reveals a deep garnet color to the rim along with a sweet bouquet of charcoal, licorice, roasted herbs, forest floor, and a meaty, truffle-like scent. A fleshy, full-bodied wine with exceptionally low acidity, plenty of melted tannin, and a long, layered finish, this beauty is close to full maturity, but it is in no danger of falling apart. It should keep for another 15+ years.
From my cellar: 2000 La Mondotte (magnum). Parker 98+. In two tastings this garagiste wine performed as if it were one of the wines of the vintage. Proprietor Stefan von Neipperg continues to lavish abundant attention on La Mondotte (as he does with all his estates), and the 2000 (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc) boasts an inky/blue/purple color in addition to gorgeous aromas of graphite, caramel, toast, blackberries, and creme de cassis. A floral component also emerges as the wine sits in the glass. Extremely dense, full-bodied, and built for another twenty years of cellaring, I thought it would be close to full maturity, but it appears to need another 4-5 years of bottle age. It should age effortlessly for 2-3 decades.
2005 L’Evangile. Parker 95. L’Evangile’s sublime 2005, a blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc, is the first wine made in their brand new cuverie. Sadly, there are fewer than 3,500 cases of this deep purple-colored offering. A gorgeous nose of meat juices, black raspberries, chocolate, espresso, and notions of truffle oil as well as smoke is followed by a full-bodied Pomerol displaying sweet tannin, a flawless texture, and stunning complexity. While surprisingly showy and forward for a l’Evangile, it will undoubtedly shut down over the next year or so. Anticipated maturity: 2012-2030.
1998 Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape. Parker 92-96. The 1998 is unquestionably one of the great modern day Beaucastels, but because of its high Grenache content, it is different from some of the other classics.
2006 Domaine de Marcoux Chateauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes. Parker 95. One of the vintage’s blockbusters is the 2006 Chateauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes, with even higher alcohol (16.2%) than the 2007. It offers lovely notes of black fruits, truffle oil, roasted meats, beef blood, black raspberries, abundant kirsch, and a hint of roasted Provencal herbs. On a much faster evolutionary track than the 2007, it is a layered, multi-dimensional effort displaying a finish that lasts nearly 60 seconds. Some unresolved tannins in the finish suggest this wine should be cellared for 2-3 years, and consumed over the following two decades.
1993 Guigal Cote Rotie la Landonne. Parker 88. The great glories of this house are its Cote Roties, of which there are now five separate offerings. The 1993s, which have just come on the marketplace, are from a troublesome vintage for everyone in Cote Rotie, rivaling 1984 in difficulty. Nevertheless, the single-vineyard wines have turned out well. As for the single vineyard wines, they are all excellent in 1993, but more herbaceous and clearly marked by the green pepper smells of slightly underripe Syrah. The most tannic of the three famous single vineyards is the 1993 Cote Rotie La Landonne. It is amazingly powerful and rich for the vintage, and reveals more fruit and intensity than it did prior to bottling. It exhibits a saturated ruby color, and copious amounts of pepper, tar, olives, licorice, and black cherry fruit in the nose. It remains the most muscular and structured of the three wines, and has managed to avoid the hollowness and vegetal character that plague so many 1993 northern Rhones. This Cote Rotie should age gracefully for a decade or more.
1989 Chapoutier Chateauneuf du Pape Barbe Rac. Parker 94. A classic for the vintage, the tight, muscular, tannic, saturated ruby/purple-colored 1989 requires another 3-5 years of cellaring. The bouquet offers up scents of Provencal herbs, pepper, garrigue, licorice, and gobs of kirsch liqueur. Full-bodied and powerful as well as extremely tannic, it will be drinkable between 2008-2020+.
Velvet glove. Bogus new world label with no vintage on the front.
2010 Grace Family Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Grown. 94 points. Yarom is obsessed with this wine.
2011 Grace Family Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Grown. So young I couldn’t find a review.
1999 Shafer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select. Parker 97. The 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select is one of the finest wines of the vintage. The 14.9% alcohol is barely noticeable given the amazing concentration and intensity. A saturated opaque purple color is followed by scents of vanilla, blackberry liqueur, crushed minerals, and a hint of white flowers. There is stunning intensity, tremendous purity, full body, and a remarkable, seamless finish (amazing given the elevated, austere tannin). Give the 1999 another 2-3 years of cellaring, and enjoy it over the following two decades or longer. A brilliant effort!
2001 Opus One Proprietary Red Wine. Parker 90. Performing better than it did eight years ago, the 2001 Opus One reveals a classic, French-like style with notes of cedar wood, melted licorice, black currants, roasted herbs and tobacco leaf. While not one of the stars of the vintage, it is a medium to full-bodied, outstanding effort that has reached full maturity. It should continue to drink well for another decade or more. This was a reassuring showing, although vintages over the last five years have been stronger and more powerful, with greater aging potential than the 2001.
2001 Opus One Proprietary Red Wine. IWC 93. Full medium ruby. Wild, flamboyantly expressive aromas of black raspberry, crystallized blackberry, smoke, leather, licorice, bitter chocolate and cedar, lifted by violet and spices. Smooth, mouthfilling and decidedly dry, with a lightly dusty character to its flavors of dark fruits, minerals and game. The broad, very long finish features building tannins. Quite different in style from the higher-pitched 2008, which was tighter and more floral at the same stage of its evolution.
2010 Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon. Parker 98+. Rich, backwards, structured and massively concentrated, the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon comes mostly from the Champoux Vineyard (also from Galitzine, Klipsun, Palengat and Tapteil) and is comprised of 99% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Merlot that spent 22 months in all new French oak. Offering up plenty of creme de cassis, coffee bean, toasted spice, pencil shavings and violet-like qualities on the nose, it has palate staining levels of extract and tannin that come through on the mid-palate and finish. Gorgeously full-bodied, layered and textured, with perfect balance, this awesome Cabernet needs to be forgotten for 5-6 years and will have two to three decades of longevity.
2010 Hundred Acre Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Kayli Morgan Vineyard. Parker 97. The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Kayli Morgan (only 25% of the normal production or 250 cases were made) offers a remarkable suppleness and velvety character to the tannins. Despite being 100% Cabernet Sauvignon you would almost swear this was a Merlot-based wine from one of the finest vineyards in Pomerol given its lusciousness and appeal. This spectacular 2010 possesses abundant creamy creme de cassis notes intermixed with notions of mulberries and spicy oak and a broad, expansive, savory appeal with decent acidity as well as ripe tannin. As in nearly every vintage, this 2010 can be drunk early yet has the uncanny intensity and overall harmony to age effortlessly. We still don’t know how long this wine will last since the first vintage was only in 2000, which was not one of Napa’s greatest years. The 2010 should hold up for at least 20-30 years.
1988 Château Suduiraut. IWC 88. Highly complex nose combines a stony, minerally pungency with notes of pineapple, orange peel, pine and petrol. Supple and fairly viscous, but with some slightly edgy acidity and a note of green herbs. The wine sugar is currently fighting its acids, creating a somewhat disjointed impression. Just a hint of alcoholic harshness on the finish.
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 great fun, if seriously chaotic. We had almost all of the restaurant and there was so much wine almost nothing ran out — but there were also too many to even try in any reasonable fashion. But, hey, we are hedonists!
More crazy Hedonist adventures or