Four of us went to Raku at your suggestion. Yes, the food was good.
But the experience was (a) total culture clash.
We called several times during the day to make a reservation. No answer.
We walked in the door at about 7 p.m. and were greeted with, “Do you have a
reservation?” It turns out that you have to call at 4 p.m. to get a
reservation. Who knew. We got the four seats at the counter, as all of the
tables were reserved.
We told the waitress that we had never been there before and asked for her
help. She had no advice. So we ordered some things that looked
interesting. The food did not come for about 40 minutes, and then it came
out one piece at a time, willy nilly. Once all of the food was out (about
an hour), it was obvious that we did not order enough food. We had been
there a long time and were really hungry but did not want to wait another
hour for more food. I explained this to the waitress. At this point she
explained the menu to us, i.e., which items come out more quickly and which
take longer. Now why she didn’t do this in the beginning, I don’t know. We
got some more food in about 5 minutes.
The whole experience was baffling. This place has some rules, but they
don’t want to tell you. You are supposed to figure them out for yourself.
I told this story to friends who have traveled in Japan. They said that
that is exactly how things are in Japan. So I guess that we had an
authentic Japanese experience, but none of us are ever going back.
Rattled By Raku
Dear Rattled By Raku,
We at ELV feel your pain. A culture clash can be an awkward experience, to say the least.
While the protocol of Raku may be daunting to some, we found the staff to be extremely helpful the first few times we dined there (unknown, anonymously). We agree with you, however, that the reservation “system” is somewhat inscrutable.
And while it is true that the small plates come out “willy nilly” from the tiny kitchen, that’s the price you pay for having each dish made to order, and composed so artfully, in a thirty seat restaurant.
Among the many great tips in Steven A. Shaw’s Asian Dining Rules, are those about how best to get to know an Asian cuisine (or restaurant) with which you are not familiar. His suggestions: Go at off times, more than once, and ask a lot of questions of the best English speaking person on the staff. At Raku, this would mean going early — both in the day and week (i.e. between 6-7 pm Monday through Wednesday) — and asking for Risa.
We suggest going back at one of those times, getting a table, let her help you compose a meal. Then sit back and letting Raku’s culinary wonders unfold before you. Experiencing great (and often strange) food is the best way we know to lower cultural barriers and create ties that bind.
Hope that helps.