Restaurant: Totoraku [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]
Location: 10610 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064.
Date: October 14, 2015
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.
We often oscillate between 30 person mega dinners — quite the madness — and more intimate 10-15 person affairs. This was the later, with about 10-12 drinkers, and I much prefer this size. You can talk to everyone, bottles go all the way around, and the quality of the wines is generally more consistently higher.
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!
The interior is a tad “minimalist.”
Here, chef Kaz Oyama, himself a part time Hedonist, sharpens his knives. Uh oh!
Bonus from my cellar: NV Vilmart & Cie Champagne Grand Cellier Brut. VM 92. Lemon peel, white flowers, mint, crushed rocks and almonds are some of the notes that meld together in the NV Cuvée Grand Cellier. The flavors are brisk, nuanced and pure in this refreshing, saline-inflected Champagne. Chardonnay plays the leading role in the Grand Cellier, and that comes through in the bright flavor profile. This release is 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir, 50% vintage 2010 and 25% each 2011 and 2012.
The appetizer plate. Lots of yummy little tidbits.
Uni risotto balls.
Salmon wrapped in daikon, stuffed with avocado and other vegetables.
A very soft gelatinous thing that probably had some crab in it, certainly veggies.
Fish with tomatoes.
2005 Aubert Chardonnay Ritchie Vineyard. VM 95. It’s interesting to taste the 2005 Chardonnay Ritchie Vineyard next to the Lauren. Here the flavors are quite a bit more mineral-driven, with plenty of graphite and crushed notes. Hints of orange peel and white truffles add the final layers of nuance. The 2005 Ritchie is a bit more forward than the Lauren, and has also aged with a bit less overall finesse, but that is a pretty small critique at this level.
Egg with pear, potato, and some kind of crisp.
Foie gras, some kind of fruit.
A white fish sashimi.
Shrimp with caviar.
Sesame tofu with pea.
Scott brought: 1977 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia Vino da Tavola. 91 points. I’ve never had a Sassicaia this old and at first it was a touch thin, but it really opened up and was quiet nice and interesting.
Beef carpaccio with special salt, flowers, and some onion family derivative. Very yummy. This is eaten raw.
1988 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia Vino da Tavola. 90 points. Perfectly matured yet fresh Cab nose, lovely red fruits, mineral, also cassis, lead pencil, strong presence of iron which is different than the last bottle, a hint of ash and tar and flower. Medium concentration, silky palate, strong presence of iron/mineral, nicely integrated tannins and seamless long finish. Other than a hint of tar, I would guess it as a perfectly mature classic cab if served blind. Lovely.
agavin: consensus at our dinner was that the 77 was a bit better than the 88
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.
From my cellar: 1986 Leoville-Las Cases. Parker 100! The late Michel Delon always thought that this was the greatest vintage he had produced. We often tasted it side by side with the 1982, because I always preferred the latter vintage. Of course, the two vintages are quite different in style, with the 1986 a monument to classicism, with great tannin, extraordinary delineation, and a huge, full-bodied nose of sweet, ripe cassis fruit intermixed with vanilla, melon, fruitcake, and a multitude of spices. The wine has always been phenomenally concentrated, yet wonderfully fresh and vigorous. The wine still seems young, yet it is hard to believe it is not close to full maturity. It is a great example of Leoville Las Cases, and another compelling reason to take a serious look at the top Cabernet Sauvignon-based Medocs of 1986. Anticipated maturity: 2005-2035.
agavin: really fabulous. Super smooth and balanced, mature with a youthful power. Long way to go here.
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.
Mark brought: 2000 Vega Sicilia Unico. Parker 93-98. In the absence of a 2001 Unico, Vega Sicilia has re-released the 2000 Unico which I reviewed in Issue 189. The 2000 Unico is deep crimson-colored with an ethereal perfume aided by its extended upbringing. Aromas of Asian spices, lavender, incense, truffle, and confiture of black fruits are compelling. Sweet, forward, rich, and hedonistic, it nevertheless has the balance and structure to continue evolving for another 5-10 years. In strong vintages Vega Sicilia drinks well at age 50 and I would expect the same of the 2000.
Beef tongue with salt. After cooking, you dip it in lemon juice.
Don’t put your tongue on the grill!
Larry brought: 2001 Penfolds Grange. Parker 98+. It is always a treat to taste Australia’s most famous wine, Penfolds’ Grange cuvee (the word Hermitage has been dropped because of legal issues). The 2001 Grange is one of the few vintages of this cuvee to be composed of 100% Shiraz (the others being 1951, 1952, 1963, 1999, and 2000). Aged 17 months in 100% American oak, and tipping the scales at 14.5% alcohol, the 2001 is undeniably one of the top examples of this wine. At this stage, it appears to eclipse the 1998 and 1996. Inky/blue/purple to the rim, with a stunning perfume of blueberries, blackberries, chocolate, graphite, and earth, it boasts good acidity, huge tannins, magnificent concentration, and a multilayered, textured mouthfeel. It is a big, but impeccably well-balanced Shiraz that should shed some of its structure and tannin over the next 4-5 years, and be at its best between 2010-2030+.
agavin: regarded by most at our dinner as the WOTN!
Filet Mignon with bell peppers, onions, and sisho pepper.
Filet on the grill.
2008 Penfolds Grange. Parker 100! Very deep garnet-purple in color the 2008 Grange reveals a truly decadent nose with tons of spices, fruit cake and black & blue fruit compote notes along with nuances of chocolate and potpourri. The full and rich, multi-layered palate has a little oak still showing, it is going through a little bit of a structural stand-out stage, but it doesn’t detract on the long and complex finish. It still needs a good few years to develop, though this very opulent, expressive Grange shows the very best of this vintage and the vineyards it hails from.
The “salad.” Cucumbers, carrots, daikon. The vegetables do help to move along the fat and protein heavy meat.
They are served with this spicy sweet miso dip.
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.
Brock brought for Crystal: 2007 Vietti Barolo Riserva Villero. VM 96+. Vietti’s 2007 Barolo Riserva Villero is a flat out stunner. Dark red fruit, Villero spices, leather, tobacco, smoke and menthol come alive in a rich, sensual Barolo that captures the essence of this site. Rose petals, mint and sweet red berries flesh out on an inviting wine loaded with class and personality. Over time, the powerful, explosive style of the year becomes more evident. The fruit turns darker, more balsamic and also more intensely mineral.
agavin: too young, but you can tell it was an enormous and balanced wine.
Outside rib eye with special salt and garlic.
The outside rib eye on the grill.
After being flipped, green onion is added.
Yarom brought: 2001 Hundred Acre Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Kayli Morgan Vineyard. Parker 98. Having performed spectacularly well last year in the retrospective of ten-year old Napa Cabernets, this 2001 remains incredibly young, with all of its potential waiting to burst forth. Its dense purple color is followed by notes of mulberries, creme de cassis, blackberries, licorice, graphite and subtle smoke. The wine reveals fabulous fruit along with full-bodied power and a seamless integration of acidity, tannin, alcohol and wood. Forget it for another 4-5 years and drink it over the following 25-30 years.
agavin: really nice “for a California.” Very balanced and smooth.
Inside rib eye.
The inside rib eye on the grill. Probably my favorite cut.
Another bonus from my cellar: 2010 Dominique Lafon Meursault. 92 points. The 2010 Meursault emerges from the glass with notable elegance and class. This is a slightly more restrained, nervous style than fans of Comtes Lafon have become used to over the years. The 2010 is made from parcels in Petit Montagne, Charmes and Narvaux that belong to Dominique Lafon and that were once used in the Comtes Lafon Meursault.
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! One hell of a piece of grilled fish.
Kirk brought: 2002 Abreu Cabernet Sauvignon Madrona Ranch. Parker 100! The 2002 Madrona Ranch possesses an opaque blue/purple color as well as an extraordinary, enveloping, massive aromatic profile consisting of spring flowers, charcoal, lead pencil shavings, blueberries, raspberries and blackberry liqueur. In the mouth, there is sensational texture, full-bodied intensity, and terrific freshness, precision and vibrancy, despite what is undeniably a massive, rich, intense wine that should age well for another 25-35 years. The 2001s were about as profound as I have ever tasted from Abreu, but the 2002s may be even sexier since they are slightly more evolved.
“Special” beef. I think it was a form of sirloin. It was certainly good, very salted.
Brock brought: 2003 Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape Hommage A Jacques Perrin. Parker 95-98. The 2003 Chateauneuf du Pape Hommage a Jacques Perrin is a blend of 40% Mourvedre, 40% Grenache, 10% Syrah, and 10% Counoise (normally this cuvee includes 60% Mourvedre and 20% Grenache). A 50-year effort, it is closed, backward, and formidably tannic at present, but the color is a deep ruby/blue/purple, and the nose offers up scents of graphite, blueberries, black truffles, earth, smoke, and licorice. Ripe, full-bodied, and powerful, but searingly tannic, it will need at least a decade of cellaring. Anticipated maturity: 2015-2050. The irony is that in spite of the much higher percentage of Grenache, it is still extremely tannic and backward, even more so than the 2001, 2000, 1999, or 1998.
You have to special order the lamb, which like all of Kaz’s meats, is pretty wonderful.
On the grill.
One hell of a chop.
We char broiled it.
So much so that ash rained down from our efforts.
Brian brought: 2012 Sine Qua Non Grenache Stein. Parker 97-66. Starting with the Grenache release, the 2012 Grenache Stein is a blend of 76% Grenache, 16% Syrah and 8% Mourvedre, aged in 14% new French oak (15% was in concrete), that comes mostly from the estate’s Eleven Confessions Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills, but also includes grapes from the Cumulus, Third Twin (Syrah) and Bien Nacido vineyards. Checking in at 15.7% alcohol, it’s no lightweight, yet it has considerable elegance in its sweet blackcurrants, white pepper, licorice, baking spices and hints of violet-like aromas and flavors. Possessing the hallmark purity of the estate, it’s full-bodied, concentrated, rich and textured, with sweet tannin barely noticeable on the finish. I don’t think it’s one of the greatest Grenaches from the estate, yet it’s still an incredible effort that will benefit from short-term cellaring and have 15-20 years or more of overall longevity.
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.
To show the epic white chocolate raspberry, I had to turn around the plate.
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 quite awesome. We had a smaller party (12-15), with a few non drinkers. Thus every wine easily made it all the way around. Additionally, everyone really stepped up and we had some pretty epic grapes. At least 3 official Parker 100s!
More crazy Hedonist adventures or