Knocked out by N/Naka

Restaurant: N/Naka [1, 2]

Location: 3455 S. Overland Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90034. 310.836.6252

Date: August 13, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Kaiseki

Rating: Awesome

ANY CHARACTER HERE

I first went to the amazing Omakase only N/Naka just three weeks ago, but seeing my review, my Foodie Club partner EP desperately wanted to go again. So we did. Now bear in mind that this lovely restaurant has only a set menu (they offer it in two sizes, plus vegetarian) but the talented young chef Ms. Niki Nakayama concocted a whole new menu (just three weeks later!) without a single repeat — and it was even better!

We start off our wines with a light Spanish white. Parker 90. “A candidate for top Albarino of my Spanish tastings, the 2005 Bodegas Don Olegario is medium gold with honey and apricot aromas and flavors. On the palate the wine is viscous with enough acidity to hold things together. Very Condrieu-like at about half the price.”

Saki zuke

(a pairing of something common and something unique)

Chef’s garden eggplant puree, scottish smoked salmon, osetra caviar

Crème fraiche, chives

This opening course had a wonderful silky mouthfeel and tasted of smoked eggplant, a bit like baba ganush.

Zensai

(Main seasonal ingredient presented as an appetizer)

Japan ayu, pacific lobster roll, nanohana, daikon and kanpachi, lotus

Root kinpira

Zooming in, the Japanese Ayu. This is a smelt relative known as sweetfish. It was crispy and grilled. Alongside are cubes of watermelon and aged balsamic. The combo was lovely.

This is the lobster roll. Kind of like a piece of uber california maki.

A bit of diakon with either eel or kanpachi inside, not 100% sure. The little tomato is from chef Niki’s garden (as are many things in the meal).

Nanohana, a kind of broccoli rabe.

Lotus root kippira. Slightly sweet with a bit of crunch.

This is an alternative form of the dish for my wife who doesn’t eat shellfish or meat. You can see the lobster is replaced with a bit of seared Toro! N/Naka requires that you specify which menu and dietary restrictions a few days in advance, but they are very adept at customizing the menu.

Now stepping up to this killer California Chardonnay, Parker 95! This one is from EP’s cellar. “The Chardonnay Belle Cote is always a more exotic wine. There are 2,200 cases of the 2005 Chardonnay Belle Cote, a wine with undeniable notes of crushed stones, white peach, orange, nectarine, and quince. Medium to full-bodied, with zesty acidity, stunning minerality, and a firm structure, this is a gorgeous, French-styled Chardonnay that should drink nicely for up to a decade.”

Modern zukuri

(modern interpretation of sashimi)

Japan bonito, marinated onions, ponzu, myoga, shiso, shiso air,  ginger

A lovely bit of bonito. And not only do I love shiso, but I get to try it as “air!” Although the real shiso had a bit more flavor punch than the airy form.

Fantastic containers add to the fun.

Owan “still water”

Black cod and shiitake, green tea soba, nameko mushrooms, dashi broth

This is one of those mild, but lovely, Japanese soups. With a vaguely sweet, soft mushroomy fishy taste. Very pleasant and soothing.

Sake- shichida, sago  japan. This is an ultra-ultra rare sake I had the previous time and it blew away the entire table (except for the 6 year-old who was left out!) One of the best sakes I’ve ever had. Each grain of rice is hand shaved before brewing!

Otsukuri

(Traditional Sashimi )

Big eye otoro, shima aji , sea bream, santa barbara sweet shrimp,

Kumamoto oyster

Zoom into the bucket, where you can see the shima aji , sea bream, santa barbara sweet shrimp.

And then over here, past the hand ground wasabi, to the Big eye otoro and Kumamoto oyster. The Toro (o-toro is the most premium Toro) was absolutely amazing.

An alternative basket my wife received. She has hamachi belly and scottish salmon instead of the shellfish.

To pair with the upcoming lobster, this Parker 90 white from Alto Adige in Northern Italy. “The 2008 Muller Thurgau literally sparkles on the palate with well-articulated aromas and flavors that come together with notable harmony. The finish is subtle and nuanced in its suggestions of mint, flowers, lime and passion fruit. This polished white also happens to be a terrific value. Anticipated maturity: 2009-2012.”

Yakimono

Pacific lobster, maitake, enringi, tamale sauce

This was a wonderful dish, and the pairing (recommended by the sommelier) with the crisp white was delightful.

My wife had to tough it out with this fish alternative, topped with a bit of dynamite.

Another lovely container, opening to reveal:

Mushimono

Unagi and gobo chawanmushi, frozen foie gras torchon powder

On the left a traditional Japanese custard with mushrooms. On the right frozen foie gras powder! This second item was sprinkled into the custard to add killer meaty umph! Really nice interplay of textures and fats.

Shiizakana

(Not bound by tradition, the chef’s choice dish to be paired with wine)

Abalone pasta, pickeled cod roe, abalone liver sauce

I had this pasta on my previous visit, but knowing this, Chef Niki gave me a different one! (below) Still, this one was amazing (or so I remember and so the rest of the party said).

Chef’s garden kabocha ravioli with truffles, brown butter sage, manchego

My wife received this dish, perfectly in sync with her taste. It was gone in about a millisecond.

Spaghetti with uni, ikura, poached eggs, seaweed, truffle

I got this, which was also delicious, tasting strongly of uni and the briny bright tone and texture of the ikura — two sushis often paired together and two of my favorites. Yum. This kind of interesting east/west fusion is very unusual, and brilliant.

As we move into the meatier portion of the menu, this 94 point Burgundy. “The Chevillon 2008 Nuits-St.-Georges Les Vaucrains projects an amazing sense of deep, dark concentration. Latakia tobacco; peat; rushed stone; roasted red meats; soy; and ripe, fresh blackberry inform the nose and absolutely stain the palate. The tannins here are as ultra-fine as they are formidable, and the tug on my salivary glands as relentless as are the finishing flavors. If this doesn’t leave you reaching for a napkin or your lips fluttering, probably no wine will. The energy and salinity here render a wine that you feel as if you must strain through your teeth nonetheless fleet-of-foot, enticing, and invigorating.”

Niku

Snake river farms kobe beef ishiyaki

Plus butter cubes and sisho peppers.

Then out comes a little hot rock.

You drop the butter on top, then the meat and cook to your taste. Like a mini version of Totoraku.

The non-meat substitute is baked miso cod, always a favorite.

Sunomono

Marinated halibut fin, cucumbers, ruby red grapefruit

Yuzu omoi, yuzu blend sake

The bright marinated flavors and the sweet/sour sake go perfectly together.

Shokuji One & Two

(Rice dish- sushi)

Jeju island hirame, o-toro

Aji (mackerel), hamachi belly.

Aji (mackerel) on the left. Not sure what’s on the right.

Mirugai, shinkomaki, miso hamachi, sesame butter chazuke.

And the other two of above, but I’m not sure which is which :-). live scallops on the left.

R.L. Buller Calliope Rare Muscat. Yum Yum! Parker 100! “Giving aromas of dark brown sugar, black strap molasses, licorice and preserved walnuts, the deeply brown colored NV Calliope Rare Muscat is again incredibly sweet and viscous with a good amount of acid to balance and is decadently rich and nutty / spicy in the very long finish. All these vintage blended fortified wines are bottled to drink now and though are stable enough to hold, they are not designed to improve with cellaring.”

Shokuji

(Rice dish)

A fish with a miso sauce on rice with seaweed.

It’s traditional to end the savories in Japan with a “rice dish.” On the left we have a very traditional bit of salmon like fish, rice, and nori. Refreshing and stomach settling. On the right were two pickles cut roll pieces. I loved these. I’m a huge Japanese pickles fan and really enjoy the crunchy vinegar thing.

Dessert

Chocolate tiramisu, ruby red grapefruit and passion fruit gelee, fruits

 These were all extremely tasty. The grapefruit thing in the middle was particularly intense with a lovely gummy texture.

Kids Omakase

EP and his wife brought his young daughter with them and she got a special “kids omakase” which was very cool.

An assortment of rolls, including toro cut roll!

Ikura (salmon eggs), sweet shrimp, and bonito sushi.

Some of the best looking tempura I’ve ever seen.

Yellowtail belly sashimi. That was one lucky girl!

N/Naka really is a very special place. Both meals I had here were spectacular (here for the first). This second was, if possible, slightly better too, which was always wonderful because often one finds a slight bloom to come off a place on repeat meals. This was very much avoided by the completely new menu, which only three weeks apart was impressive. The quality of ingredients, preparation, and presentation here is pretty stunning.

Try it!

Click here to other LA Japanese restaurants.

Or other Foodie Club extravaganzas.

Takao Sushi Taking Off!

Restaurant: Takao [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

Location: 11656 San Vicente Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90049. (310) 207-8636

Date: August 6, 2011

Cuisine: Japanese / Sushi

Rating: 9/10 creative “new style” sushi

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I’ve already covered Takao in some detail HERE and then separately herehere, and here, but we went back (we go often) and I built another “custom omakase” trying some different things. The full menu and some information on the history of the place can be found through the first link.

As you can see comparing this to the other Takao meals, you my dear readers, come first, as I ordered completely differently for your vicarious enjoyment.

After my spectacular N/Naka Kaiseki meal and its really good sakes I decided to up my sake game. This is the cheapest of the “shaved rice” sakes on the menu at Takao. It was good, not as good as the two amazing ones at N/Naka (Takao has half a dozen “better” ones too), but good.

The chefs at work. Takao himself was cutting for me tonight.

Scallop sashimi. I do love my japanese scallops. There was sea salt to dip them in too.

Toro tartar with caviar. I just can’t resist.

Spanish Mackerel chopped with scallions. Very tasty!

Squid, two ways. On the left normal. And on the right I’m not sure, but it there was a sour (and I mean sour) plum sauce (above left) to dip it in. Same sauce as I had the other day at Kiriko.

Mysterious grilled bit of sea creature. Soft and chewy, not bad.

Grilled Alaskan king crab legs. A sprig of pickled ginger.

On the left Uni (sea urchin) and on the right Ikura (salmon roe).

Fresh water eel with the sweet BBQ sauce.

And then a winter mushroom miso to finish.

For more LA area sushi, see here.

Food as Art – N/Naka

Restaurant: N/Naka [1, 2]

Location: 3455 S. Overland Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90034. 310.836.6252

Date: July 22, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Kaiseki

Rating: Awesome

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N/Naka opened only three months ago. It’s the brainchild of chef/owner Niki Nakayama and is a rare entry (along with Urwasawa) in the Kaiseki category of Japanese. This is a traditional style of extended meal of small highly ornate dishes that is simultaneously traditional and modern. Originally it was a form of Imperial cuisine from Kyoto, but in the hands of Nakayama it’s received a bit of a modernist twist ala infusions of ideas and techniques from Ferran Adrià, the Spanish genius responsible for many modernist trends in cooking.


The unassuming frontage is on Overland just south of the 10 freeway.

Inside is minimalist, Japanese inspired, and very attractive.

Small attractive details are very Japanese.

Be warned, this restaurant has no ala carte menu at all (yay!). There are three options. A 10-13 course Modern Kaiseki, a nine course smaller Kaiseki (still long), and a ten course Vegetarian Tasting. All three options can be coupled with wine pairings. Below I will present the long Modern Kaiseki and the Vegetarian.

Modern Kaiseki (w/ wine pairings)


Graham beck sparkling, south africa. A nice dry champagne style pinot.

Saki Zuke

(A pairing of something common and something unique)

Cauliflower tofu, marinated salmon roe, uni butter, micro greens.

A wonderful blend of textures and flavors. The tufo was soft and gelatinous, the uni is… well uni-like, and the bits of Ikura (salmon roe) burst in the mouth as little flavor morsels. Delicious.


2008 — brooks riesling, williamette valley, oregon.

Zensai

(Main seasonal ingredient presented as an appetizer)

Soft shell crab, avocado sphere, scallop “dynamite”

Seared bluefin toro avocado rice, miso marinated black cod


Soft shell crab, avocado sphere, red pepper sorbet. The nicely friend crab and the sorbet played nicely off each other.


miso marinated black cod. Pretty much the Matsuhisa classic!


Seared bluefin toro avocado rice, caviar. Seared toro is always good, nice pairing.


scallop “dynamite.” This was pretty delicious. The soft, slightly chewy, bits of scallop played deliciously off the rich dynamite.


2009 — erbaluce di caluso, favar, piedmont, italy. Parker gives this 88 points. “The 2009 Erbaluce di Caluso is an unusual white that in many ways recalls Pinot vinified off the skins. Flowers, red berries and minerals come together nicely on a mid-weight yet generous frame. Clean, mineral notes reappear on the finish, giving the wine its sense of proportion. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2012.”

Modern zukuri

(modern interpretation of sashimi)

Tuna and escolar checkers, ponzu reduction, italian black truffles

A delicious blend of little sashimi cubes and a richer more European sauce, plus the truffles. Very nice.


2010-shesbro roussanne, carmel valley, ca.

Owan “Still Water”

Lobster “shinjo” mousseline, chef’s garden momotaro tomato broth

You break up that little lobster thing into the soup, and eat that way. The soup had a delicious and light tomato dill thing going on, and the lobster added just a touch of richness.


Sake-kimura junmai daiginjo, akita, japan. This was a spectacular sake, tasting strongly of anise. This is the kind of sake where they shave every rice kernel down before making it!

Otsukuri

(Traditional Sashimi )

Big eye otoro, shima aji , sea bream, santa barbara sweet shrimp,

Kumamoto oyster with uni

Some classic sashimi. The fish was all first rate, the wasabi hand ground.


Rw draft sake, suehiro syuzo, aizu japan. This was a fresher, younger sake.

Yakimono

Japan sazae butter yaki with maitake mushrooms

Japanese conch (like we had at Matsuhisa), but even more delicious as it was mixed with really yummy mushrooms and quail egg.


2007 — slumberger gewurstraminer prince abbes. Medium sweet.

Yakimono 2

Foie gras with eggplant, miso balsamic, shiitake mushroom

Double yum! Fois gras done up like BBQ eel (with some eggplant and mushroom).


2009 — elke chardonnay- anderson valley.

Shiizakana

(Not bound by tradition, the chef’s choice dish to be paired with wine)

Spaghetti with abalone, truffles, pickled cod roe, abalone liver sauce

This was a pretty amazing pasta dish, blending east and west. I’m not usually a huge abalone fan (although I have it often enough). It’s usually too chewy, but this wasn’t at all. There was a combined truffle and briny taste to this dish, not unlike a good spaghetti botarga, but also a truffle and butter/liver influenced richness.


2009 — evening land vineyards blue label pinot noir, eola amity hills, oregon. “Evening Land Vineyards is a group headed by movie magnate Mark Tarlov that also owns Pinot vineyards in the Sonoma Coast and Santa Rita Hills and is making wines in Burgundy. They gained control of one of the Willamette Valley’s prized properties, Seven Springs Vineyard, and created an immediate sensation by signing on Dominique Lafon of Comte Lafon in Burgundy as consulting winemaker. The Evening Land group is also making a major effort to restore the health and vitality of Seven Springs. The most recent development is the addition of renowned Master Sommelier Larry Stone as President and GM of the group in August 2010. Over the past 2-3 years there has been an awakening among some of the Willamette Valley’s most distinguished vignerons that their region is capable of producing world class Chardonnay. With Dominique Lafon and Larry Stone on board, there is no question that Evening Lands will be playing a starring role in this drama. There are now two serious Gamay producers in the Willamette Valley, Doug Tunnell of Brick House being the other.”

Niku

Snake river farms kobe beef kushiyaki skewers, baby corn

A small portion of yakaniku, ala Totoraku (see here). Delicious and rich. Not quite the beefy effect of the mega secret beef meal, but a nice note in this complex dinner.

Sunomono

Halibut fin ceviche

Yuzu omoi, yuzu blend sake

A tasty little intermezzo.


Sake- shichida, sago  japan. This apparently is an ultra-ultra rare sake.


In the glass. It was darn good. Darn good. So were all the sakes, but I liked this one and the first one the best.


Housemade ginger.


Some traditional sushi. Jeju island hirame, o-toro


yellow tail belly, shima aji


live scallops, uni shinkomaki. Overall the sushi was good, but not quite at the level of the very top dedicated sushi places. Still, it was very very good sushi.

Shokuji

(Rice dish)

sea trout and roe chazuke

It’s traditional to end the savories in Japan with a “rice dish.” On the left we have a very traditional bit of salmon like fish, rice, and nori. Refreshing and stomach settling.


On the right were two pickles cut roll pieces. I loved these. I’m a huge Japanese pickles fan and really enjoy the crunchy vinegar thing.

Dessert

Black sesame crème brulee, fruits

A very nice crème brulee with a soft sesame flavor.

There was also a dessert wine, a light medium sweet late harvest wine, but I forgot to get a photo of it.

Dessert

ice cream on cornbread

Tasted of corn, and ice cream — big surprise. Light and yummy.

Vegetarian Tasting

Saki Zuke

(A pairing of something common and something unique)

Cauliflower Tofu with Truffles

Zensai

(Main seasonal ingredient presented as an appetizer)

Chilled chef’s garden kabocha soup, braised wakame seaweed with shiitake

Lotus root “kinpira”, grilled eggplant, shiso tempura with tofu & avocado


grilled eggplant


braised wakame seaweed with shiitake


shiso tempura with tofu & avocado


Chilled chef’s garden kabocha soup


Lotus root “kinpira”

Modern Zukuri

(Modern interpretation of sashimi)

Compressed watermelon, cucumbers, baby yellow squash, baby zucchini, yuzu

Kimchee air

Otsukuri

 (Sashimi )

Arrowroot konyaku, whith konyaku, spinach, kabocha, baby taro

Nanohana ripini, carrots

Owan “Still Water”

Potatoe “shinjo”, chef’s garden momotaro tomato broth

Shiizakana

(Not bound by tradition, the chef’s choice dish)

Spaghetti wild mushrooms, truffles

Yakimono

Lotus root mochi, spinach teppanyaki


avocado, Sushi-eggplant & shiso


shiitake, grilled konyaku

Maitake roll, cucumber and plum

Shokuji

(Rice dish)

ocha zuke with wasabi nori

The desserts were the same as the Modern Kaiseki. Overall a pretty spectacular job of approximating the full range of proteins using only vegetable sources. Vegetarian (or otherwise protein restricted) foodies should delight in this.

I was extremely impressed with N/Naka, and you can bet I’ll be back soon. The food is highly elaborate and offers a full suite of flavors meticulously prepared. I very much enjoy even the fully traditional Kaiseki dinners, but this slightly modernist take was even better. Sometimes chefs with inferior pallets will introduce modernist techniques into traditional meals and create uncomfortable taste pairings. Niki Nakayama clearly has a very sure and confident palette, as I found every dish harmonious and balanced.

I just hope the somewhat adventurous and all-tasting format doesn’t make it difficult for the restaurant to thrive (and I wouldn’t change that at all for myself, but some might be intimidated). I have the feeling that the menu changes up frequently, and is very seasonal, and I hope that’s the case — because I’ll be back! (And I was, click here for a second meal)

Or here for other LA Japanese restaurants.