I Ate That: Curry Zen and Sweets Raku
The cool part about living in Las Vegas is that if you like food, there’s tons of it here. Good food! Interesting food! And not just on the Strip! I live across from one of the best tamale places in the valley, and only minutes away from one of greatest breakfast spots (I’m sorry, but any place I can get s’mores pancakes and have Spam as a choice of meat is great). Between my office and work is countless amazing Mexican places, and the 4 mile foodie wonderland that is Las Vegas’s Chinatown. Not feeling like cooking tonight, I decided to head there after work, and give Curry Zen and Sweets Raku a try.
Having had Japanese style curry at several places in the valley, I heard nothing but good things about Curry Zen. As I pulled in, I saw a friend of mine I hadn’t seen in a while, and him and his buddies were telling me how great the curry is there. Rumors that the guy behind the place was a Japanese ex-pat curry master, facts about their homemade garam masala, and more were thrown at me. Clearly I was in the right place. The place was fairly empty, probably because it’s a work night, and I was greeted warmly and seated quickly. Upon my friend’s recommendation, I got the spinach curry base and a three set of kushiage (Panko-breaded deep fried things on sticks. No, seriously. That’s what it is.)
The food arrived quickly, and was a good sized portion. The curry had a slight heat to it (I didn’t up the spice level), and the spinach gave it a chewy but pleasant texture. The kushiage itself perfectly fried, tonight’s assortment consisting of chicken, quail eggs, and zucchini. If you happen to be in Vegas’s Chinatown, I recommend this place over some other good, but lacking in the timing/service department, curry places nearby. It’s neat, it’s clean, it has a simple menu, reasonably priced, the menu combos are almost endless… Yeah, this might be my new Japanese curry place.
For dessert, I headed across the plaza to Sweets Raku. Having never been to Raku proper, despite it being in the same plaza, all I knew was that I was in for an experience, and the quality would be mind blowing. A three course menu dedicated to dessert? I had to be all up on this.
The place is a little hard to find; no real signage outside except a giant silver spoon, and windows that peer at a wall of wine. Here too the place was rather understandably empty, and impeccably clean. I was happy greeted, and took a seat at the bar. I was presented with the menu, and was explained to the prie fixe menu. After placing my order and ordering a cappuccino along with it, I was given a pouring of raspberry syrup and told to enjoy it with my menu. Yes. My menu was edible. And bland, but made a perfect vessel to bring the delightful syrup to my mouth. My coffee was also served with a stick of rock candy instead of sugar. I couldn’t have been more pleased with that.
My first course was an ‘amuse’ of pineapple sorbet with a white wine jelly. A few small spoonfuls, all made in-house. The sorbet was the perfect mix of sweet and tangy, with the jelly being just dry enough to counterbalance it. I was actually saddened when it was gone.
Seeing how my main course was being made to order (like most things here), I took this time to watch the chefs behind the counter prepare and assemble the desserts. The care and attention to detail they put into each place shows the dedication and the passion they have for their works. I sipped my coffee and watched as my second course was put together, the chef debating on which marshmallow was the perfect one for the plate. I couldn’t contain my excitement as she handed it to me and happily explained what I was about to enjoy.
My main dessert was the Red Rock, a raspberry lava cake filled with raspberry puree, cream, and a surprise whole raspberry, finished with a veil of sugary strings. A homemade granola topped with also homemade vanilla and pistachio ice creams accompanied it, and the plate was garnished with chocolate ganache, candied fruit of some kind (I didn’t catch it, I wanted to believe it was mango), and little cubes of yuzu marshmallow. I’m just going to assume the lady behind this dish is a dessert angel sent from Japan to put pastry chefs on the Strip to shame. The cake was moist, warm, and flavorful. The strings sharp, but quickly melting to reveal a flavor not unlike cotton candy. The ice creams were each brilliant in their own right, the granola adding a much appreciated crunch. The bits of candied fruit a pleasing chew, and the marshmallows an interesting yet familiar flavor; a tang, giving way to that memorable marshmallow taste. I savored every bite, and watched as the ever busy chefs behind the counter worked on other desserts while the small restaurant slowly filled.
My last course was a petit four, today’s being a custom cream puff. Mine was filled with more of that wondrous raspberry puree and chocolate cream. The platter it was served on had a bit of caramel sauce, another yuzu marshmallow, and a strawberry one as well. The cream puff was probably one of the better ones I’ve had; slightly chewy, perfectly baked, the cream not overwhelmingly sweet. The strawberry marshmallow was much like the yuzu one. I savored the few bites of it there were, and it was over. My experience, now a memory.
If you like sweets, go to Sweets Raku. I actually paid double for the prie fixe and my coffee than I did on dinner, and I have no regrets about it. All in all, a fantastic way to spend a work night.