“Raku” is Japanese for “enjoyment,” and anyone who’s dined at either Raku or its sister restaurant Sweets Raku can testify to the name’s truth. I’ve dined at Raku a handful of times in the three years I’ve lived in Las Vegas, so I’m no stranger to its exceptional quality and carefully crafted dishes. Only recently, however, did I venture to Sweets Raku, the dessert restaurant of its namesake.
Sweets Raku is situated in the same strip of (primarily) restaurants as Raku, though not immediately adjacent. The businesses occupying this mall share a small parking lot that seems always full, regardless of when. Though I arrive an hour from closing time on a Sunday evening, this appears to have little or no impact on the number of available parking spaces.
Upon opening the door, my first impression is less visual and more olfactory: crossing the threshold, a thick, sweet smell awaits. A glass wine cellar serves as a visually engaging partition between Sweets Raku’s inside and the world outside. The weather is cool; the oven’s warmth is an appealing invitation.
Other Las Vegans are similarly beckoned. Although my arrival aligns with the final hour of business, Sweets Raku is at capacity. Cute and colorful decorations, mostly red, accent the minimalist, all-white interior—a strawberries-and-cream design theme ramps up the restaurant’s sweetness. Sweets Raku is cozy, with only three or four tables alongside a bar overlooking the open kitchen and pastry chefs’ workspace. At first, the only open seat is at a table. Shortly after ordering, however, I relocate when a couple departs from the bar.
At Sweets Raku, the bar is undoubtedly the best seat in the house; it is only from this vantage point that customers can watch the pastry chefs at work. This is one of Sweets Raku’s appeals: spurred by delicious aromas and visual delights, anticipation for your selected dessert builds while watching its formation. The restaurant’s open kitchen is laid out before you, providing the satisfying and engaging experience of seeing Raku’s skilled chefs craft gorgeous, artisanal desserts before your eyes.
Artistry fuels the menu. Main desserts are available a la carte or as two courses coupled with fruit sorbet. Sweets Raku’s menu offers savory options, take-home cookies, cakes, cream puffs and macaroons. Additional offerings include wine flights and wine pairings to match your treat. The server informs me that one or two dessert items change every couple of months as Chef Mio curates and taste-tests new delicacies. For the holidays, Sweets Raku will offer a take-home, Japanese-style Christmas cake. This year it will be a light and fluffy cheese mousse two-sided cake with mango and blackberry. Only 50 will be available, by reservation.
Using seasonal fruits and fresh ingredients, Sweets Raku’s pastry chefs are precise and delicate when making your dessert by hand. As I sip jasmine green tea, the intricate construction of the main dishes occurs before me—like blown glass, hot taffy is pulled, snipped, spun, then filled with air to create a perfect, shiny apple candy for Ringo, one of Chef Mio’s main desserts. Light and fluffy meringues are kissed by the flame of a blowtorch, then placed atop lavender sponge cake and fresh mango for a dish called Mt. Charleston. The pastry chefs at Sweets Raku are as close as many of us will ever get to Willy Wonka.
As a dessert restaurant, Sweets Raku delivers three pleasures: minimalist and bright decor, engaging presentations artfully designed as you watch and, of course, delicious desserts almost too beautiful to eat. Almost.
Kayla Miller holds an MFA from UNLV and is the author of the chapbook See & Be Seen & Be Scene. Her work can be found in The Collapsar, Tahoma Literary Review and The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, among other journals.