Stepping off an uninteresting strip of bustling Overland, I was slightly weary of what lay behind the doors of N/Naka, and not just because the doors were actually locked when I arrived. Our reservation was for 6:30 which is the time they open and yes, a far cry from the 9pm dinners I was used to eating in Paris, but since our meal spanned over 4 hours, I was glad we got an early start.
4 hours. What took 4 hours? 13 courses, that's what. I love when the only choices on the menu are: 9 courses or 13, and wine pairing or not. I like surprises and luckily for me, Chef Niki Nakayama is an unbelievably capable chef who you want to surprise and delight you, all night long.
N/Naka is a kaiseki restaurant, based on a Japanese art form where you're served multiple courses using local, seasonal ingredients, and some that are also organically grown just for them. You can see and taste the level of precision and attention to detail with each plate, which were expertly crafted like stand alone masterpieces in a beautiful food gallery.
You probably don't have 4 hours to read this, so I'll get to the 13 courses.
Sakizuke. A pairing of something common and something unique. Fanny bay oyster, Santa Barbara uni, russet potato dashi, sanbizu gelee, baby red-vined sorrel and pansy from Niki's garden. I didn't know what all of that was, but I knew we were off to a good start.
Zensi. Main seasonal ingredient presented as an appetizer. Hirame, maitake cream, shiitake, shimeji, lotus root chip, mizuna, lemon soy reduction, lobster shumai, blue crab, cucumber, unagi. This plate was one of my favorites, if not for the colorful plating alone. Each of the 5 items on the plate had so much going on visually and texturally. It was a joy to uncover each taste.
Modern Zakuri. A modern interpretation of sashimi. Amaebi, American white sturgeon caviar, matsutake dashi gelee, ponzu reduction, baby red-veined sorrel from Niki's garden, yuzu zest. She gave us a breather here, but still top of the line fish that lays on your tongue before drifting off.
Owanmono. Still water. Tai, matutake, mitsuba, yuzu matsutake dashi. Most notable about this course was the really nice sherry pairing. Love the unique, but well balanced combination.
Otsukuri. Traditional sashimi. Amaebi, Kumomoto oyster, live hirame from jeju, kanpachi with toro, seared baby big eye toro, fresh wasabit, ponzu, Niki's special soy sauce sake. This plate gets the award for the most visually stunning, and yeah, it tasted real good too.
Mushimono. Steamed dish. Uni Chawanmushi (egg custard), shitake mushrooms, truffled dashi, Italian white truffles. Nice plating as well, with a great range of flavors.
Yakimono. Grilled dish. Razor clams, shimeji mushrooms, brussels sprouts, spicy shemeji mushroom dashi. I ate a decent amount of razor clams in Paris, but never with this preparation. It worked, but I think I prefer them grilled in the shell with a tangy persillade on top.
Shiizakana. Shaved black abalone spaghettini, pickled cod roe, Italian summer truffles, garlic, ponzu, daikon radish sprouts. You want this. Hope they have it when you go.
Niku. Ishiyaki - Japanese wagyu rib eye, shisito pepper, persimmon chip, sesame soy tare. Understandably, the chef had to be getting tired by now, so it was our turn to do some cooking with paper thin beef on a hot stone - our only meat of the meal. Not particularly memorable, but it'll blow Benihana away any day.
Sunomono. Salad. Mirugai (giant clam), baby cucumber and golden sunset cherry tomato from Niki's garden. Pure beauty on a plate.
Shokuji One. Rice dish - sushi. Tai, big eye tuna O-Toro, wild aji, amaebi, fresh uni, seared toro. This sushi is as good as you think it is. No, probably better.
Sokuji Two. Soba noodles, freshly grated wasabi, kombu dashi. She couldn't think of anything else to do with fish so she treated us with delicious homemade noodles in a light, but salty broth.
Mizumono. Dessert. Passion fruit, French Vanilla bean ice cream, nata de coco, black sesame creme brulee, kyoho grape. I'd rather have ended on eel or sashimi, but there's nothing wrong with a crisp layer of creme brulee.
As you can see, it was a parade of outstanding, well crafted and beautiful plates. The service was impeccable and the ingredients were top notch. I look forward to another meal here as she changes her menu with the seasons and what's growing in her garden.
3455 S. Overland Avenue
Culver City, CA