Totoraku – Secret Beef!

Restaurant: Totoraku

Location: 10610 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064.

Date: April 7, 2011

Cuisine: Japanese Yakiniku

Rating: Best beef in town!


Six or seven years ago my friend and then-boss Shuhei Yoshida took me for the first time to the “secret beef” place. He warned me. It’s hard to find, is unlabeled, there are no walk-ins, and the door is often locked. I’ve been back at least 6-8 times since and am now friendly with chef/owner Kaz Oyama. This place is invitation only. Some one in the party needs to know Oyama-san (that would be me this time). It serves a very refined version of Japanese Yakiniku, which is Beef BBQ originally from Korea but filtered through Japanese sensibility.

This particular meal is the March Foodie Club meeting. And yeah, we’re late by a week (for March). We took eight people.

The outside is basically a shell. The “Teriyaki House” has nothing to do with the food within, and the phone number is incorrect.

The “decor,” is almost amusingly spartan (ugly actually). Nor is this a big place.

One of my favorite things about Totoraku is that the wine is all BYOB, hence no corkage, and the food (being mostly beef) goes so spectacularly with big red wines. You can see some of the bottles left over from previous guests, many of which are of the very highest level. We’re talking 1945 Petrus, La Tache, or Hommage du Jacques Perrin.

The wine prepped in my cellar and ready to go.

This unusual Spanish white earn 92 from Parker, “The 2007 Gorvia Blanco was sourced from a single 3 acre vineyard planted exclusively to the indigenous variety Dona Blanca (used in the past mostly for grappa production or as a table grape). Medium straw-colored, it reveals aromas of apple, pear, slate/mineral, citrus, and acacia. Crisp, concentrated, and intense (in the style of top-level unoaked Chablis), in the mouth it is vibrant, complex, and impeccably balanced. It should provide both intellectual and sensual pleasure for another 5-6 years.”

There are three dipping sauces. Left to right, a sweet teriyaki-style sauce, lemon juice, and light soy sauce.

The impressive looking appetizer spread. This is for four people. Everyone gets a bite sized bit of each.

Pear with prosciutto. Very sweet and soft, with a hint of salty.

Black sesame tofu. Highly unusual and delicious. Nutty, gooey and chewy.

Akimo (monk fish liver). Some of the best I’ve had, very soft and not very fishy.

Vegetable jelly. Interesting texture, tasted like… vegetables.

Sockeye salmon wrapped in jicama, with avocado and a kind of soba.

Fresh steamed abalone on zenmai Japanese royal fern), a sansai, or mountain vegetable. Delicious. Very tender abalone, and the vegetables nicely pickled and earthy.

Kohlrabi in a kind of potato salad like prep. Excellent crunchy texture and a nutty flavor.

Hard boiled qual egg stuffed with code row and crab. Tasted like a deviled egg!

Shrimp on endive with caviar. The endive lent a nice crunch and slightly bitter tang.

I always like to start the reds with Burgs. Parker gives this 92, “Bachelet’s 2005 Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes – from 60- to 70-year-old vines both below the route nationale and north of Gevrey in Brochon – offers lovely black fruit aromas with hints of anise and mint. A truly palate-staining intensity of vividly-fresh, tart but ripe black cherry and blackberry is underlain by firm, fine tannins (not precluding an emerging silkiness of texture) and augmented by bitter-herbal and stony notes. Although palpably dense and abundantly tannic, this outstanding village wine still comes off as juicy, sleek, invigorating and refined. Put it away for at least 5-7 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. 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.


Homemade smoked beef tongue. Tasted just like a good pastrami.

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.

I went to this vineyard in 2009 and convinced the owner to sell me a case of this spectacular old vine, but little known (and little made) wine before it was even released. He had to put the labels on hismelf. Parker 96. “The top effort, the 2007 Cotes du Rhone-Villages Rasteau Fleur de Confiance, is awesome. An inky/blue/black color is followed by a stunning bouquet of scorched earth, incense, blackberry jam, coffee, and spice. This full-bodied, massive, stacked and packed Rasteau is destined for two decades of life. Its sweet tannin and textured mouthfeel are compelling. Give it 2-4 years of cellaring and consume it over the following 20 years.”

Chef/Owner Kaz Oyama, fleeing from the “paparazzi” with a glass of the Rasteau.

The raw is finished, and so out come these humble little BBQs.

Beef tongue with salt.

So many moo-less cows.

BBQ to perfect, and add a bit of scallions, then dip in lemon juice and enjoy. This is about the most tender tongue I’ve had (and I’ve had plenty). It’s still a dense slightly rubbery texture, but delicious.

Filet Mignon with bell peppers, onions, and sisho pepper.

These are all grilled up. You can eat the beef however you like, I prefer rare to medium rare. The peppers even had a bit of heat, but not so much, but a delicious flavor.

The “salad.” Cucumbers, carrots, daikon.

They are served with this spicy sweet miso dip. The vegetables do help to move along the fat and protein heavy meat.

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.

Parker gives this blockbuster 96 points. “The 2008 Flor de Pingus had been in bottle for 2 weeks when I tasted it. It offers up an enticing nose of smoke, Asian spices, incense, espresso, black cherry, and blackberry. On the palate it displays outstanding volume, intensity, and balance. Rich, dense, and succulent, it has enough structure to evolve for 4-5 years and will offer prime drinking from 2015 to 2028.”

I had asked special if we could get a bit of seafood thrown in just to “break up” the meat. These are nice jumbo shrimp.

Shrimp on the barbi!

Outside rib eye with special salt and garlic.

Cooked here with the scallions.

To medium rare. Then eaten with the sweet sauce. Personally I like this better than the filet as it’s fattier and has more flavor. It’s slightly less uniform in texture.

Chilean sea bass with a bit of dressing and peppers. Tasty, but not as fantastic as the beef.

Sashimi grade salmon with pepper and lemon. Simple, but the fish was so good it was delicious.

Inside rib eye.

It’s hard to compare the inside and the outside. I think the outside might have been very slightly better.

“Special” beef. I think it was a form of sirloin. It was certainly good, very salted.

A little early for this massive Parker 98. “The 2007 Espectacle is 100% Garnacha sourced from 120-year-old vines located at La Figuera on the northern edge of the Montsant DO. The vineyard is managed by Rene Barbier’s Clos Mogador team and is aged in one 4000-liter vat at Celler Laurona. The 2007 Espectacle reveals a sexy bouquet of mineral, Asian spices, incense, truffle, and black cherry compote. This leads to a full-bodied, plush, succulent, impeccably balanced wine which admirably combines elegance and power. It will evolve effortlessly for several more years and have a drinking window extending 2013 to 2022 if not longer. It is Montsant’s benchmark wine and a world-class expression of old-vine Garnacha.”

Short rib. Close to the Korean galbi. This is way more tender than what you’d get a typical Korean BBQ house and was my favorite of all the cooked meats. It’s also probably the richest — go figure!


Less raw. Goes in the sweet sauce — yum!

Skirt steak.

This is a tasty but sometimes tough cut. Not here, soft as butter.

A bit of a “bonus round” with left to right, short rib, filet, outside rib eye.

Were cooking now!

The lynch is always one of my favorites. Parker gives the 2000 96 points. “Beautiful creme de cassis, and cedar in a surprisingly full-bodied and evolved style that could be drunk now. I originally predicted 2008-2025 for the window of full maturity, and that looks accurate, as this wine, which exhibits a little amber and loads of glycerin, is probably the biggest, richest Lynch Bages produced after the 1995 and before the 2005. Succulent, with lots of juicy black fruit and silky tannin, this is a beauty that can be drunk now or cellared for another 15-20 years.”

The final savory course is a rice and egg drop soup. You could get it spicy or mild (this is spicy). Apparently in Korea this is called Gukbap. It helped wash down the beef.

There are some special ice creams and sorbets.

On the left White Chocolate, bottom Espresso, right Lychee, top Blueberry, back pistachio. I liked the ice creams better than the sorbets (which isn’t usually the case). The sorbets were a bit mild, although certainly very nice. The White Chocolate was my favorite, followed maybe by the Pistachio.

I had brought 12 wines (for 8 people) but we only made it through 6. I was a bit disappointed because I never got to my biggest gun, a 1970 Palmer, because I opened 6 bottles at the beginning to breathe. But still, the “little” guns were pretty great. Big reds always go extraordinarily well with this very beefy meal.

And 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.

For other Foodie Club meals, click here.

Fellow Foodie Club Chair - EP