photo credit: Noah Devereaux
When you get your check at the end of a meal at Raku, you are given one or two frozen grapes in a small dish. No other dessert options are offered, nor is an explanation of the complimentary grapes. You just get your frozen purple grapes, and you eat them. And then you’ll think about why you don’t eat frozen grapes more often.
These frozen grapes say a lot about Raku as a restaurant. A Japanese place in the good part of Soho (with another, smaller location in the East Village), Raku specializes in udon. And after an udon-based meal here, you’ll think about why you don’t eat udon more often.
Most likely, the reason you don’t eat udon more often is that almost nowhere in New York makes udon that’s nearly as good as Raku’s. The soups, with things like wagyu beef or oysters added to them, are everything you could want on a cold, rainy day. There are also a few options for cold udon with simple toppings or dipping sauce, which really highlight how artfully made these noodles are. They’re silky but chewy, with tapered ends that say, “I’m homemade by someone who really knows what they’re doing.” If your primary experiences with udon have involved one of those stations in the back of a grocery store near your office, well, first of all look into some new options, and second, you should go to Raku.
Raku also serves a long list of appetizers and rice bowls, many of which are solid - like the fried chicken or gyoza - but udon should be the primary purpose of your visit. Another key piece of advice is to go early, go during lunch hours, or go by yourself and try to get a seat at the bar. They do take a limited number of reservations, but it’s mostly walk-in and pretty much always slammed with significant waits by 7pm. Our final piece of advice is to eat more frozen grapes.
This soup is filled with washugyu, which we’ve learned is a blend between Japanese wagyu and American angus steak. But you don’t need to know that to know that this soup is really, really good.
Do you have something against clear broths? Do want all your food to be over-the-top flavorful in a good way? Opt for this miso pork-based udon soup. It has a similar flavor profile to Cocoron’s Mera Mera Soba, which you will know to be a huge compliment if you’ve ever been there.
Try these cold, plain noodles to get a sense of the craftsmanship at play here. You’ll notice how they’re tapered at the end in a perfect way. The dipping sauce comes with a few things you can add to it, like scallions, wasabi, and a quail egg.
Compared to karaage chicken, tatsu-age is coated only in potato starch, not flour, so it has a lighter fried coating. It comes out piping hot and juicy, with a spicy mayo that has some bits of roe in it.
They’re dumplings and they’re good.
Uni Ikura Don
A bowl of sea urchin and salmon roe is something we pretty much always order if it’s on a menu, but this isn’t a highlight here. The bowl is small and sort of hard to eat out of, and not really worth the $38.