n/naka. Chef Niki Nakayama’s temple to modern kaiseki. On a quiet stretch of Overland sits the gastronomic wonderland, devoid of signage out front as if to say that what you will experience within needs no introduction.
For those uninitiated, Kaiseki is a multi-course Japanese dinner using fresh, seasonal ingredients. The food is art and the artistry of plating each dish in a harmonious manner is of utmost importance. In the hands of Chef Nakayama, this is dinner theatre.
Due to the nature of this meal, one must make reservations in advance, no walk-ins permitted. And prior to arrival one must choose which of the three tasting courses they will be enjoying. There is a vegetarian option (with much of the produce coming from her garden in the back), a nine course chef’s tasting menu and a thirteen course modern kaiseki offering. The offerings change with the seasons and in fact change daily depending on what strikes Chef Nakayama as particularly wonderful. Further, should you return to n/naka, meticulous notes are kept so that you may never be served the same dish twice.
The Monster and his companions opt for the thirteen course meal. While there are wine pairings on offer, we decide to order bottles as we go. Two bottles of sake and three bottles of wine later the intelligence of this choice comes into question.
The compact rooms are simply adorned, the few tables in each have enough room to enjoy your company. On this evening there are three other tables with guests and what might often be a serene environment is instead a raucous bacchanal of food and merriment.
Going in one should know this is going to be a lengthy meal (three to four hours is typical). The pause between courses can vary, at times bordering on insufferable, but the prize that awaits with the next course obviates most if not all of the annoyance this may lead to.
Service is friendly, water glasses are constantly filled, wine is generously poured, and each course is proffered with an explanation of both what it is and how it should be consumed.
As for the food, it is stellar. The highs are incredibly high, and truth be told on this evening there are no lows. There are a few courses that tend to gravitate toward the middle. Each course brings admiration for the care and imagination brought forth and our table is often reevaluating which dish trumps them all. While there are less offerings, those who enjoy Urasawa may find themselves equally as excited to be dining at n/naka.
And now, onto the food!
A rich start to the meal, this dish features a creamy sauce with which to mix the sweet dungeness crab flecked with gold flakes, the salty caviar and the pickled daikon.
Ankimo (monkfish liver) with cucumber syrup in the dropper, lotus root tempura, mackerel and coddled quail egg in truffled dashi broth are course number two. The quail egg is the highlight of this course.
While The Monster has long felt salmon is played-out, n/naka makes a believer out of him again. Wild salmon with bright, fresh flavor pairs well with the pickled cucumber, shaved kombu and zest of Buddha’s hand.
Snapper in miso broth. One of the lesser dishes of the evening.
Sashimi time! The oyster is especially wonderful. The Monster hasn’t loved oysters in the past, perhaps time for a conversion? mackerel, tuna and halibut round out the course.
A companion declared this dish oyster tater-tots. Indeed. They are marvelous with the truffle infused soy/ponzu sauce.
What’s hiding in this dish?
Creamy, beautiful lobster!
Risotto, uni and truffles. A highlight of the night. This is a dish worth savoring.
Watching the duck cook as the charcoal hotpot beneath the large magnolia leaf continues to cook the meat in red miso sauce is mesmerizing. Even moreso, eating the succulent duck which is crispy on the outside and perfectly tender inside.
Hokkaido scallop and cucumber along with a fruity sake that is as refreshing as lemonade on a summer day.
Sushi! Melt in your mouth sushi!
It’s even more wonderful than it looks. Snapper, otoro, uni, Hokkaido scallop.
A bowl of soba noodles in broth is a simple and clean ending to the meal.
Azuki bean cake and vanilla ice cream. Tasty.
White peach and raspberry. Wish the fruit course were larger.
All three desserts are refreshing ends to the feast. The sesame creme brulee especially so.
A glass of dessert wine tops off the evening and The Monster bids adieu to n/naka. He shall return.
Why go? Someone else has an expense account.
Monster rating: 5/5 Monsters
3455 South Overland Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90034