The idea of fusion food, which is made by combining two different cuisines, seems to be in decline these days. This is probably not a bad thing, as the new rise of home-style cooking tends to lead to cheaper meals and better food. But every once in a while a restaurant challenges my thinking on fusion cuisine. Raku is one of these places.
Getting into Raku can be a bit daunting at first. Arriving there on a Saturday night, I was told that there would be a 40-minute wait, which was spent in a cramped waiting area. The worst part of the Raku experience is over once a party’s name is called for seating.
Despite the fact that tables seem to be placed a little bit close together, the design of the Japanese restaurant is open. Our waiter seemed to know all the dishes on the menu, and suggested a few good ones.
One of the most interesting features of Raku is the restaurant’s “Asian Tapas” style of dining. Diners can choose from a menu of about 30 small dishes, allowing even two people to sample a wide range of cuisine. Although some of Raku’s larger dishes seem intriguing, the Tapas are recommended.
Certainly the most interesting dish on the menu, the Raw Tuna Napoleon is one of the most visibly appealing in the assortment. A mound of silky, raw chopped tuna mixed with a light cream sauce is placed on top of a small cracker that seems to resemble a more elegant version of the crispy noodles often served with soup in Chinese restaurants. Two of these small, pink delicacies are placed on each other for an interesting take on the French pastry. This dish becomes visually stunning when paired with the bright green garnish of a slightly milder version of the Korean kim-chi.
While the rest of Raku’s dishes are not as aesthetically appealing as the Raw Tuna Napoleon, they certainly present more ambitious flavors. The mixed vegetable stir-fry includes a blend of crisp vegetables cooked with a sauce different than the “ginger flavor” promised, but was tasty anyway.
Chicken Yakitori, a dish with skewered chicken, should not be missed. Resembling Filipino barbecue, the chicken is slightly sweet but very tender and served with a side of vinegar-marinated cucumbers and pickled ginger. The Shrimp Shumai bares no resemblance to the rubbery dumplings that usually pass at a Chinese restaurant. Instead the dish included just-cooked shrimp nestled in a light, airy wrapper with a sweet vinegar dipping sauce to accompany them.
Thai ice tea is usually a good mixture of standard tea with sweetened, condensed milk, but at Raku the tea packs a little extra punch. In fact, everything at Raku seems to pack a little extra punch except the bill, which came in nicely at $36 for two people, including drinks, four dishes, tax and tip.
Students visiting Raku should stop in with four people to open the options of what they can try. Diners should also call ahead for seating, or wait until summer when sidewalk tables alleviate cramped quarters inside.
Raku, located at 1900 Q St., NW, is open daily for lunch and dinner