A Tasting at Sushi Raku

If you're going out to eat and have time for an appetizer, ebi mayo is a pretty good way to start things off. The fried rock shrimp with spicy yuzu mayonnaise ($9) at Sushi Raku was crispy, zingy and delicious.

We were at a tasting at the new Midtown restaurant at 3201 Louisiana, where the walls are covered with hanging red rope. As the story goes, the truck bringing in the 60,000 pounds of heavy rope from Japan had three blowouts on its way here.

It was a Friday night, and the place stayed pretty full during the time we were there, from 8 to 9:30 p.m. The groups included young singles out on the town as well as families with children. On the walls are two imposing, large scale drawings of a geisha and a samurai. An artist comes in and works on them several times a week; a total of six of the drawings are planned in all.

As we rolled through the courses, a common theme emerged: Sushi Raku pays a lot of attention to presentation and to its sauces.

The baby octopus was crunchy and intriguing, but the marinade they put it in was even better.

Next up was smoky duck salad ($9.50) with thinly sliced cold smoked duck with orange gastrique on a bed of arugula.

The outstanding dish, though, was 12-hour Berkshire pork ($9) -- aka hog's jowls -- which was melt-in-your-mouth good. The jowls are marinated for half a day. It was simply sensational and, according to our waiter, it is the restaurant's most popular dish.

The miso cod came with a candied ginger sweet miso sauce ($15) and was moist and tender.

The quail ($11.50) with a teriyaki glaze and curry oil was beautifully presented on a bed of caramelized onion, but seemed just a little on the dry side.

We finished off the dinner with two desserts (each $6). One, a cake roll with coconut flavors, was pleasant enough, but the Texas Gala Apple sorbet with toasted almonds was a great way to end the meal.

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