Japanese food. So overproduced in America. I was talking to a gentleman from Britain the other day who reminded me that when you go to England and don’t really know where to go or what to order, it’s like visiting the Central Coast from oversees and going to Applebees for dinner, expecting to get the local flavor. Japanese food is one of those cuisines where you really have to shock your system and go to Japantown in San Jose to understand that we don’t really get the authentic stuff, and don’t really know what we’re missing. Well, the Yakitori cooked up by AJ over at Raku in San Luis Obispo is a glimpse into what we’ve been missing.
First off, Raku has the only authentic Yakitori grill in San Luis Obispo County. It is a long narrow grill sitting over a shallow hot box filled as needed with a special blackened oak imported from Japan. Raku’s Master, Tony, has installed some serious ventilation over the glass-enclased open end of the sushi bar, but he’s left it open so there’s still plenty to see. The hot coals being constantly moved around to maximize even heat. Smoke billowing or merely dancing over the skewers depending on what’s being cooked. AJ, your intrepid chef who Tony trained for a month to get it right, is truly focused and passionate, paying great attention to getting your food exactly right. And he’s a terrific person with a smile that lights up the room. Say hi, and you’ll see what I mean.
AJ has a lot to be happy about. He cooks up incredible morsels skewered on bamboo stacked with some really unique flavors that are kicked up by his slow cooking over the uniquely flavored smoke. Need more convincing? The skewers cost only $2 – $3.75 each. Great for small eaters like me who love to try lots of different flavors in one sitting. Those flavors? Chicken breast, teriyaki beef, prime short rib, salmon, zucchini and portobello mushroom, to start, with a selection of interesting sauces. Not convinced yet? Chicken thigh and leek, asparagus and bacon, chicken wing, shiitake mushroom, and scallops with bell pepper sauce and chive oil. More adventurous? How about beef tongue, pork toro (like thick cut fatty bacon) with smoky chipotle sauce, Korobuta sausage, or eggplant with yuzu ginger ponzu. Better yet, order the Omakase, which is AJ’s choice of 5 different skewers. So be nice to him.
I want to end on one of the things I really enjoy about these skewers that I feel make them even more special. They’re arranged from small pieces at the bottom to larger pieces at the top. AJ says this is so they cook evenly, since the convection of the heat flows from front to back, making it hotter toward the larger pieces, ensuring the small bites and bigger bites are all cooked perfectly at the same time. I challenge you to try that at home. I will add, that it makes each bite unique as well. Some are small chewy bits, while others are soft meaty bits. It’s a fun mix of textures that pick up more or less sauce, more or less oak, and make each mouthful different than the last.
You’ll see us writing plenty about Raku. It’s one of our favorite places. The flavors are amazing, the sushi is the absolute highest quality, the servers feel like family. But one thing I enjoy most is how Tony takes us on a trip to Japan with his authentic selections if you know what to ask for. It’s no Japanese Applebees.