Thursday, October 6, 2011

Modern Kaiseki at n/naka

My first kaiseki experience was at Wakuriya in San Mateo, and I was very excited when I found out that Chef Niki Nakayama from Inaka had opened up her own spot in Palms and was serving modern kaiseki.
While there is a seasonal menu posted online, Chef Nakayama may change a few dishes any day depending on what looks good in her garden that day. The restaurant was a little hard to find, sitting in a dark corner of Overland Ave. There's no sign, just the number. On my visit, we opted for the 9 course Chef's Tasting ($110) with wine pairing ($55).

Saki Zuke (a pairing of something common and something unique)
Chef's garden eggplant puree, Scottish smoked salmon, Osetra caviar, creme fraiche, chives
The dish was paired with a sparking wine: Jean Philippe Cuvee
Eggplant Puree
This was one of those item the chef decided to put on after seeing what looks good in her garden that morning, and indeed the eggplant puree was excellent. The combination of eggplant and smoked salmon is not one I would've expected, but it worked wonderfully.

Blue crab stuffed sword squid, mushroom sautee, bacon powder, balsamic reduction
Paired with 2010 Morgadio Albarino, Rias Biaxas, Spain
I enjoyed the sweet blue crab and the fun flavor combinations here, though the dish pales in comparison to the first one.

Modern Zukuri
Kanpachi tartare in avocado, ponzu glaze, yuzu sorbet, jalapeno gelee
Paired with 2007 Pinot Blanc, Domaine Pfister, Alsace, France
Modern Zukuri
The kanpachi tartare was hidden inside the avocado shell. Beautiful. I loved the rich mouth feel from the avocado and kanpachi, and the yuzu sorbet made for a great palate cleanser between each bite.

Otsukuri (Traditional Sashimi )
Tuna, Japanese sea bream, lobster, Kumamoto oyster topped with Santa Barbara sea urchin
This was paired a sake: Tokubetsu Junmai sake, Chiyomusubi, Totori, Japan
Good old traditional, but high quality sashimi.

Uni Chawanmushi
Paired with 2007 Slumberger Gewurtztraminer, Prince Abbes
Uni Chawanmushi
Not only was it topped with uni, when we dug under we found sweet snow crab. Love at first sight and first bite. I loved the gewurtztraminer served with this course as well. The pairing with the rich uni was probably my favorite pairing of the night.

Shiizakana (the chef's choice, not bound by tradition)
Abalone pasta, pickled cod roe, abalone liver sauce
Paired with 2010 Contese di Gavi, Pio Cesare, Piedmonte, Italy
Abalone Pasta
Al dente pasta with chewy abalone, reminiscent of the Japanese style spaghetti thanks to the use of cod roe.

American Wagyu "houba-yaki", Kyoto red miso sauce
Paired with a 2007 Evening Lands Pinot Noir, Wola-Amity Hills, Oregon
"Houba-yaki" is a dish where you grill something with miso on a Japanese magnolia ("hou") leaf. Talk about presentation, aroma, and taste. I loved smelling the bubbling miso on top of the leaf. The wagyu was cooked just right and was very tender.
The pinot noir was very light in color, you can almost see through it. Smooth, yet quite fruity.

Shokuji One and Two (rice dish - sushi)
Just like the sashimi, the sushi was also paired with sake: Shichida Yamahai Karakuchi, Saga, Japan

A series of great sushi, consisting of many of my favorites! Chef Nakayama had trained with Mori Onodera (Mori Sushi) and Takao Izumida (Takao Sushi), so you know you can expect good sushi.
Japanese Snapper
Live scallop
so sweet, and great texture
Amaebi soup
Seared Toro
Seared toro
Mm yes, more toro, please!

The dessert course was paired with a 2008 Maldonado Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, Calistoga
They were simple desserts, but done well. In keeping with the kaiseki tradition, the dessert was not overly decadent, nor were the portions big.
Creme Brulee
Green tea creme brulee 
Flourless chocolate cake, vanilla ice cream.
Chef Nakayama
Chef Niki Nakayama
Chef Nakayama came out after dinner to thank us for coming. She talked about her garden and how she decides the menu from it. While she doesn't serve traditional dishes at each course, she sticks to the traditions and spirit of kaiseki. After all, it's all about using the best and freshest ingredients you have.
We all very much enjoyed our first experience at n/naka, and I'm looking forward to returning for the full, 13-course Modern Kaiseki menu. Soon.

3455 S Overland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90034
N/Naka on Urbanspoon



N/Naka is fabulous. I've been there twice review and review and not only was it great both times, but it was nearly totally different (and only 3 weeks apart). Your meal also looks to have changed it up substantially, and only in a couple weeks. Many omakase type places barely change.

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