The first rule about the secret beef club is to not talk about the secret beef club.
Well, it’s actually totally fine to talk about it but don’t even think about getting into it by just walking in off the street.
There is a seemingly unremarkable store-front restaurant on Pico in Cheviot Hills/Rancho Park called The Teriyaki House. Nestled among shops and restaurants, near Pep Boys and McDonalds, you’ve probably passed by it a million times. You may have even wandered in there to check it out, having no idea that the family-friendly looking restaurant itself is actually a façade for what exists behind the proverbial curtain. In only the most secretive and exclusive of Foodie circles, The Teriyaki House is actually known as: Totoraku. Diners are either personally invited to enter the restaurant and sit at a table by it’s enigmatic chef, Kaz Oyama, or they may come with a friend who has dined there in the past. Regular folks wandering around Pico Boulevard, hankering for a square meal need not apply. And if you’re a vegetarian or pescatarian or any kind of ‘tarian’ who doesn’t eat red meat, then you’ll want to keep walking, too.
This is an underground dining scene straight out of the movies. Very few tables, sparse décor and no alcohol (guests may bring their own wine). But the mood among the chosen few who populate the restaurant is buoyant. It is a culinary adventure everyone is sharing together which makes for a communal and jovial experience. Shyer eaters suddenly become emboldened and seem willing to take more risks with what they put into their mouths. No one wants to offend the master chef who approaches his meat with great reverence. And meat, most courses being raw meat, is the true star of the show. There is so much raw meat and from so many unexpected parts of the cow, after dining here you may never want to eat meat again.
The meal consists of nine courses and each is shared family style with your table-mates. Occasionally a beautifully arranged vegetable is snuck onto the platter but that’s little more than a garnished decoration playing second fiddle to the meat at the center of the plate. Each portion of meat, whether raw or cooked, has a delicate accompanying sauce. A spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down, as the case may be.
I don’t consider myself a true Foodie. I love enjoying a fabulous meal as much as the next guy but my tastes run simple and I think by about the 4th or 5th course, I had my fill of the best Totoraku had to offer. Good friends of ours invited us to go and it was a lively, adventurous bunch of other friends of theirs filling out our table. As we were leaving, filled to the brim with beef, the waitress handed me a gold card that meant we were now in the club and would be permitted to return with guests of our own.
I can’t say I will be making a habit out of going there again soon, even with my golden ticket of reentry. I’m not even sure when the next time will be before I can just order a hamburger without having flashbacks to course number 7. I will say, though, I think it’s pretty cool to have a secret, underground club for serious meat eaters in the Cheviot Hills/Rancho Park neighborhood. If you haven’t been yet, you may want to become friends with the chef or a previous diner to sample it for yourself. Just remember to bring your nerve and your appetite and be prepared for a dining experience like none other.