EATS/ Small Bites

Just for the Halibut.

Raku's Halibut Sashimi with Champagne Yuzu Sauce.

Raku's Halibut Sashimi with Tony's Experimental Champagne Yuzu Sauce.

Our day last weekend of wine tasting and constant grazing across San Luis Obispo County led us to Luis Wine Bar just prior to dinner. After an incredible predinner discussed in that post, it was time for “Second Supper,” according to the Hobbits. When we’re in Downtown SLO you’ll invariably run into us at Tony’s Place – Raku, originally billed as a Robata Japanese Tapas restaurant. I have no idea what that means. It’s also called Japanese Fusion Cuisine for people like me, which I can get behind.

This isn’t your father’s sushi bar. If you’re a “traditional” snob, you’ll be deeply offended by the incredible sauces Tony dreams up and adds to some of his dishes. I’m not so easily offended. I like things saucy as long as its complimentary to the food it’s on. And I was not offended by the dish Tony suggested to me this time.

SIDEBAR!! Whenever you go into a place that serves raw seafood, make it a practice to ask the head guy preparing your food “what’s fresh today?” This is code language for “gimme your best, buddy.”

So upon entering Raku, I immediately knuckle bumped Tony.

SIDEBAR!! Don’t shake your nasty hands with a guy cutting up raw fish.

And asked him “what’s fresh today?” I love the look I usually get back like he’s opening a trench coat selling me some exotic Asian novelty in a back alley. “Halibut,” he said, “and you have to try the champagne yuzu sauce I made.”

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Tony’s a master, so I nodded enthusiastically, ordered my to-die-for Spicy Garlic Edamame, a steak Yakitori skewer (the only Yakitori grill in the County), and chatted with the locals. (I apologize for the picture above only showing a couple pieces, because the plate came out filled with probably 8 pieces of succulent, beautifully semi-transparent slices of one of the sea’s most wonderful fish. I couldn’t help myself from immediately shoveling a few in before I remembered “crap, I’m writing a blog.”)

SIDEBAR!! Halibut, for those of you on the Right Coast, is in the same family as your flounder. But it sounds funnier, so we like it better here.

The champagne yuzu sauce was delightful. That’s the thing about a lot of the more exotic Asian flavors – you have to try them, and you, like me, will find some that you start to crave. Shiso leaf, a Japanese mint, is another of those unusual flavors we love that Tony weaves into his food. The yuzu used on this dish is a citrus fruit that has a kind of red grapefruit-mandarin orange flavor. For delicate fish like this one, that alone would have overwhelmed it. So the addition of the champagne both expanded the flavor, added a tad of bitterness to balance out the sweet and sour (think champagne mimosa), and made the whole dish kinda sparkle. (Yes, that’s right, I used a visual word to describe a flavor.) Wow was it good.

So when in our dining room, what we affectionately refer to Raku as, make sure to be open to new experiences. Tony is all too willing to experiment on you with his food, and I’m still around to tell the tale. And a long, wonder-filled one it has been. Think outside the bento box and try new combinations like the lobster roll with tarragon, and you, just like the halibut, will end up hooked.

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    April 11, 2012 at 2:21 am

    I was lucky enough to go to Raku last Friday night and Tony made me the Halibut Sashimi with the Champagne Yuzu Sauce. Peter and Estelle Steynberg were with me after a SLO “Art after Dark” at Steynberg Gallery. We decided to snack some at Raku. We were all impressed with the Halibut and the Yuzu sauce. It’s always a pleasure to eat at Raku.

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