When you eat with a chef sometimes you end up trying things that would normally make you shudder. Maybe it’s snails, pork cheek or something vaguely sausage-y on a stick. Exploring a menu with a kitchen professional at the table is like taking a guided tour of an art museum — without the expert the art will still be beautiful, but understanding the backstory is what really makes it sing.
So, when Wazuzu chef and Weekly blogger Jet Tila mentioned heading to Raku, the subject of a recent Jet Stream blog post and one of his favorite local restaurants, with his girlfriend Sophie and some friends, I could hardly turn him down.
Raku, in particular, is a place where it helps to dine with someone who knows a thing or two about Japanese food. The tiny Spring Mountain gastro pub specializes in charcoal-grilled small bites and other refined snacks — skewers of Kobe skirt steak topped with crispy slices of garlic, thick slices of fresh blue-fin tuna and big bowls of bamboo shoots. Jet considers Chef Endo’s corn potato one of Las Vegas’ most creative culinary events. It’s also delicious.
Over the course of two and a half hours, our table plowed through plate after plate of minimalistic, well-flavored Japanese pub food. The sake was crisp, the food satisfying and light, and the tendon ... wait, the what?
Just when I thought I’d laid down my chopsticks for good, our last plate arrived bearing two skewers of gelatinous-looking opaque protein. They glistened in the restaurant’s soft lighting, seeming to taunt me as a digested the idea of putting that in my mouth. Mmmmm, the tendon whispered. You can’t handle this.
I have a thing with fat and gristle, the chewy bits on the edges of meat that I leave in a dejected pile on the corner of my plate. Texture is the problem, and here was an entire serving of connective tissue daring me to take down a bite of something gooey and gross.
I waited as a few other members of the table ate pieces of the tendon, each one giving a positive review seemingly to their own surprise. And then it was my turn. With a knot at the pit of my stomach, I hoisted a jiggling bite towards my mouth, took a deep breath and ate it.
A smile. The tendon was a tad chewy, like a bunch of udon noodles stuck together in a stir fry, but the flavor was incredible, rich and hearty with the smoke of the grill mixing with its braising liquid.
“It’s fucking life changing,” Jet said via email later when I asked him how Raku makes something so scary taste so good.
I had to agree. Can someone please pass the connective tissue?