n/naka

April is turning out to be one of the best months of the year.  Not just because it is my birthday month, but also Mama H.o.P. and Baby G’s birthday month too.  So April has become a month of celebrations, and in my family that translates to a month of eating.  Now that Baby G is old enough to voice his wants, he gets to indulge in a lot of cake and chocolate.  That kid doesn’t usually feed himself or when he does it takes a lot of prodding to get him to finish his meals.  Put a piece of cake in front of him and he’s double fisting frosting with the biggest smile.  Unfortunately, or fortunately, Triple T is expecting Double Trouble so she had to skip out on n/naka since they do serve raw fish.  No matter, since she has been before.  Smooth Obturator thought I would enjoy n/naka and it had been about 3 years since his last visit.  After watching the episode of Chef Niki Nakayama on Netflix’s docu-series “Chef’s Table,” I learned that the restaurant keeps a log of all diners and previous menus to ensure that repeat visitors enjoy something different on subsequent visits.  I don’t think I have ever heard of a restaurant going to such great lengths for diners.  The docu-series definitely highlighted Chef Nakayama’s mission to put diners and their experiences at the forefront of her restaurant.The food at n/naka is undoubtedly Japanese, but it’s not just sushi, or izakaya, or tempura.  They serve Kaiseki, which is a Japanese multicourse dinner that balances taste, texture, appearance, and colors of food.  It tends to use seasonal and local ingredients.  There is a certain order of dishes and types of dishes included in the modern Kaiseki.  I’ve had a Kaiseki experience at Next, when they were serving their “Kyoto” menu.  I was certainly quite impressed with my meal there because it was clean, simple, and perfectly executed considering the chef is not Japanese.  But now I feel n/naka delivers a much better Kaiseki experience, probably because the approach is more modern, while Next was probably trying to be a bit more traditional.



Saki Zuke 

a pairing of something common and something unique
 
Fanny Bay Oyster uni, ikura, orange, kumquat jelly, fennel vichyssoise
Sometimes the sweet salinity of uni can be easily overpowered, but the oyster and ikura all made for a tasty bite.
Zensai 
seasonal ingredients presented as an appetizer

Fried Renkon Lotus Root lobster
I really enjoyed the tempura lotus root here.  Generally I find lotus root to be an odd texture since I never grew up eating it.  Here it played nicely against the light crispy tempura.


Sea Trout avocado, ponzu
Looks like salmon huh?  I would have been fooled.

Blackcod marinated miso
A delicate and tasty offering.

Grilled Squid stuffed with snow crab
This little bit was meant to be enjoyed with the quail egg mixed in the swirl of black squid ink.  It was alright but I preferred all the other little bites a little better.

 

Modern Zukuri 
modern interpretation of sashimi
 

Bonito ginger, myoga, shiso oil,  ponzu
I appreciated the lovely presentation.  The bonito was seared which added some texture.  The little blob in the upper left corner is some bell pepper jelly, a unique flavor for sashimi.

 

Owan 
“still water”
 

Clam seaweed, ginger, carrot, kaiware, dashi
Really clean, pure, simple.

Otsukuri 
traditional sashimi
 

oh toro, kampachi, hirame, kumamoto oyster, nama tako 
n/naka is not known for its sushi, but everything was very fresh, well prepared and just the way I like my sushi.  The toro had the right balance of oily fattiness.  The octopus had just enough bite.

Yakimono 
grilled
 

Seabass fried, green onion ponzu glaze, gingko nut, grilled bamboo shoot
This tasted like a really yummy sweet and sour fish.  Sweet and sour probably triggers one to think “mediocre Chinese food,” but this was probably the best sweet and sour anything you’ve had.  It was very clean and light in flavor but packed enough oomph.  I’d also never eaten a grilled bamboo shoot that appeared almost fresh and just cut.  It was served with the inedible outer layers, which made for a cool presentation.

Mushimono/Agemono 
steamed/fried

Chawanmushi snow crab, shitake, mitsuba, shirako
Flavorful yet clean.  That was really just the theme of the night.  The crab and uni were plentiful.

Shiizakana 
not bound by tradition, the chef’s choice
 

Spaghettini abalone, pickled cod roe, burgundy truffles
This was THE BEST dish of the night!   Heck it might have been the best thing I’ve eaten in a while.  It was a play on mentaiko pasta plus a few other more luxurious ingredients.  It’s no wonder why this dish is the highlight of the menu, and strays from the traditional Kaiseki offerings.

Niku 
meat course
 

Japan Matsuzaka Wagyu Beef A5
Beef.  Fat marbling.  Hot sizzling stone plate.  Heaven.

Sunomono 
 

Hotaru Ika japanese cucumber, yuzu miso
I’ve enjoyed these firefly squid before, but this was not the best version.  Sushi Sushi had the cleanest tasting squid.  Here, you could still taste the innards, which can be a little off putting.

The dish was accompanied by a shot of yuzu sake.

 

Shokuji 
rice dish – sushi

Tai, Toro
Even though this place isn’t supposed to be good for it’s sushi, the sushi was still pretty good.  I suppose I would ding them on the rice.  Could have been maybe more cooked or less cooked?  Not sure.

Nameko red miso soup 

Miso soup is good, but when it comes with a shrimp head in it I know something better is soon to come.

Sayori, Aji

Amaebi, Uni
I’ve really surprised myself how far I’ve come with sushi.  I used to hate amaebi and uni.  I thought it was slimy, fish, weird, straight up gross.  Now I think it’s my favorite out of the whole lot.  LOVE.

Carrot Sorbet
Really pretty.  Palate cleansers are never that amazing.

Matcha
This was a complimentary dessert.  It was simple and rather delicious, the details of which escape my mind.  I believe it was a panna cotta of some sort.

Rhubarb Frangipane Tart rhubarb ice cream, strawberry granita
I’ve never been all that impressed by rhubarb anything.  It always seemed too tart for its own good.  However, the rhubarb was perfectly balanced by the sweet almond filled buttery tart.  The rhubarb ice cream might be one of the more original flavors I’ve tried.  The strawberry granita was a fine complement.  This was an excellent end to a memorable meal.

Everything from the food to the service to the ambiance were notches above my experience from the previous weekend at SAAM.  Though stand alone, n/naka would still have been a fantastic meal.  They seem to really care about presenting the best of themselves and allowing the food and ingredients to shine.   SAAM could care less.  They are there to impress you with fancy ingredients and flavored foams.  n/naka delivers simple elegance.  It was only heightened by the artistry presented in the food and the knowledge that Chef Nakayama was actually in the kitchen crafting everything herself.  I’m not sure you will find a better Kaiseki experience in LA than at n/naka.  Surely, it was a superior meal than Next’s Kyoto menu.  I would highly recommend the place for any special occasion dinner.  It ain’t cheap!
10 – You NEED to eat here 
9 – Awesome!
8 – Very good
7 – Good
6 – OK
5 – Average
4 – Not bad
3 – Not good
2 – Terrible
1 – Do NOT go here

 

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