Location: 10610 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064.
Date: May 18, 2016
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 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!
Stewart brought bonus: 1996 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut La Grande Dame. VM 95+. Deep, highly complex aromas of citrus skin, nutmeg, porcini mushroom, toasted almond and clove. Rich, dry and impressively deep; superconcentrated and oily. A chewy, spicy Champagne that seemed to grow fresher as it opened in the glass. Really explosive on the aftertaste, finishing with a clinging quality and powerful spicy, nutty flavors. A major mouthful of Champagne, at its best at the dinner table. Displays the combination of high ripeness and high acidity of this vintage at its best. This thick, rich, very powerful wine is still a bit youthfully disorganized and will be even better for a few years of additional aging. One of the standouts of my recent tastings.
Kirk brought bonus: 2004 Marcassin Chardonnay Marcassin Vineyard. VM 97. Pale yellow-green. Knockout nose combines stone fruits, minerals, fresh herbs, honey, flowers, grilled nuts and earth. Round and lush yet racy and light on its feet, with compelling flavors of pineapple, grapefruit and crushed stone. A huge but classy wine with considerable finesse. Wonderfully rich yet subtle on the back end, where it stains the palate with fruits, minerals and soil tones.
I brought as bonus: 1993 Georges Noellat Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Beaux Monts. 91 points. A bit tart at first, but some air helped the flavors flesh out a bit. Earthy, meaty, spicy, and floral, this had all the components of great Burgundy. The flavors seemed to be a bit muted, though, so the wine had a dulled sense to it…the intensity wasn’t there I guess. Certainly improved with more air, but I’ve had better bottles of this.
Larry brought: 1998 Château Mouton Rothschild. Parker 89-96. Like many of its peers, the 1998 has filled out spectacularly. Now in the bottle, this opaque black/purple-colored offering has increased in stature, richness, and size. A blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc (57% of the production was utilized), it is an extremely powerful, super-concentrated wine offering notes of roasted espresso, creme de cassis, smoke, new saddle leather, graphite, and licorice. It is massive, with awesome concentration, mouth-searing tannin levels, and a saturated flavor profile that grips the mouth with considerable intensity. This is a 50-year Mouton, but patience will be required as it will not be close to drinkability for at least a decade. Anticipated maturity: 2012-2050.
Danny brought: 1999 Mouton-Rothschild. Parker 93-94. Made in a soft style, many readers will prefer this “friendlier” blend of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, and 4% Cabernet Franc. A very sexy Mouton, it exhibits a dense ruby/purple color, sweet cassis fruit, coffee, and smoke. Long and lush, with low acidity, ripe tannin, and medium to full body, it should be reasonably approachable upon release, yet evolve nicely for 20-25 years.
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. From the same cow! 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.
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.
Stewart brought: 1983 L’Evangile. Parker 88-91. A gorgeous bouquet of black-raspberries, minerals, spices, and cedar is an immediate turn-on. The deep ruby color is followed by medium-bodied, beautifully concentrated, well-focused flavors. The exotic side of l’Evangile so noticeable in its top vintages comes across in this plummy, rich, viscous, medium to full-bodied, fleshy wine. More tannin was evident in this tasting than in the past, which makes me think the wine might be starting to display more structure. One of the best right bank wines of the vintage, it should be drunk over the next 12-15 years.
Larry brought: 1989 Palmer. Parker 96. Deep garnet-brick. Dark chocolate covered cherries, espresso, cinnamon, rose petals, tree bark and loam. Medium to full body with layers of concentrated fruit and spice flavours supported by crisp acidity and a medium+ level of fine tannins. Very long finish.
From my cellar: 2001 Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape Hommage A Jacques Perrin. Parker 99. The 2001 Chateauneuf du Pape Hommage a Jacques Perrin is a blend of 60% Mourvedre, 20% Grenache, 10% Counoise, and 10% Syrah. Full-bodied, excruciatingly backward, and nearly impenetrable, it boasts an inky/blue/purple color in addition to a promising nose of new saddle leather, melted asphalt, camphor, blackberries, smoky, roasted herbs, and Asian spices. A huge lashing of tannin as well as a formidable structure result in the antithesis of its more flattering, forward, and voluptuous sibling, the classic Beaucastel. Readers lucky enough to come across this cuvee should plan on waiting at least a decade before it begins to approach adolescence. Anticipated maturity: 2012-2040.
1989 Guigal Cote Rotie la Turque. Parker 99-100. The precocious, sweet, jammy 1989 La Turque’s smoky, licorice, and black-raspberry aromas, as well as its phenomenal richness, make for another extraordinary tasting experience. Full-bodied, dense, and thick, this wine possesses the essence of black cherries. Still youthful, it is already gorgeous to drink. Anticipated maturity: now-2012.
Inside rib eye.
Ron brought: 1981 Penfolds Grange. Parker 97. The 1981 stood out as slightly superior. Winemaker John Duval always felt this was a tannic style of Grange, but the wine has shed its tannins, and this is one of the few vintages where the percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon was above 10%. Sweet notes of creme de cassis, cedarwood, charcoal, and barbecue spices are followed by a full-bodied, opulent wine displaying heady amounts of alcohol, glycerin, and density in its full-bodied, skyscraper-like texture. I was drinking this wine with great pleasure in the mid-nineties, yet here it is nearly 15 years later, and the wine does not appear to have budged much from its evolutionary state. This is a testament to how remarkably well these wines hold up, and age at such a glacial pace.
Yarom brought: 1997 Penfolds Grange. Parker 94. The 1997 Grange (a blend of 96% Shiraz and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon) looks to be a classic Grange, although slightly softer and more forward than the backward 1996. The saturated purple-colored 1997 offers a gorgeously sweet nose of blackberry liqueur, cherries, camphor, chocolate, plums, and mocha. The wine is opulently-textured, extremely soft, layered, and seductive, with Grange’s tell-tale personality well-displayed, but in a seamless, seductive style. This is a superb Grange that can hold its own against the more heralded 1996.
Ilana & Ron brought: 1999 Latour. Parker 93-95. Deep garnet colored with a touch of brick, the nose offers notes of cassis, tobacco leaf and tar with hints of tree bark and earth. The palate is taut and savory / minerally with very firm chewy tannins somewhat dominating the restrained fruit at this stage.
Arnie brought: 2002 Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard. Parker 100! One of the greatest young Cabernet Sauvignons I have ever tasted is the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To-Kalon Vineyard (which I also rated 100 when it was first bottled). This wine has hardly changed since its release. Still incredibly youthful, it reveals a blue/black color along with notes of black currants, camphor, graphite, high quality unsmoked cigar tobacco, blackberries and a touch of oak. Full-bodied and multilayered with terrific texture and richness as well as a 60-second finish, this young, exuberant, slightly flamboyant classic offers an interesting contrast in style with other top producers (such as Schrader Cellars) that also farm parcels of the Beckstoffer To-Kalon Vineyard. Like most young Cabernets, this wine can be drunk now because of the sweetness of its tannins, but it is a good decade away from full maturity. It should last until 2040-2050. Bravo!
Mark brought: 2007 Kapcsandy Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Vin State Lane Vineyard. Parker 100! Absolutely riveting, and even better than I predicted last year is the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon – Grand Vin State Lane Vineyard. Made from 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, and the rest tiny dollops of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot (400 cases produced), in two weeks of tastings, this wine stood out as one of those singular efforts that it is impossible to get out of your mind and off of your palate. A flawless, seamless, profound example of Napa Cabernet, it exhibits an opaque purple color along with a gorgeous perfume of lead pencil shavings, cedar, creme de cassis, ink, flowers, and espresso roast. With phenomenal depth, a multidimensional personality, unbelievable length, and an impeccable integration of all its component parts, this stunning wine lasts and lasts, with a finish approaching a full minute. Give this profound wine 3-5 years of cellaring, and drink it over the following 25-30 years.
Cooked very well. Super super tasty.
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. So great we ordered 3 plates for 4 of us!
1990 Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey. VM 93. Wonderfully complex, quintessential Sauternes aromas of apricot, smoke, truffle, game and licorice. Thick and mouthfilling, but kept fresh by strong, harmonious acidity. Conveys a tactile, layered texture and strong noble rot character. Really lovely balance. Finishes with powerful fruit and great persistence. Stunning wine.
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). Thus every wine easily made it all the way around. Additionally, everyone really stepped up and we had some pretty epic grapes. Every wine was drinking well and some were just total stunners!