Wednesday, April 06, 2011

n/naka (Los Angeles, CA)

n/naka Restaurant
3455 Overland Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90034
310.836.6252
www.n-naka.com
Wed 04/06/2011, 07:00p-12:35a




n/naka Exterior

When we last left the Morihiro Onodera-trained Niki Nakayama, former chef/owner of the all-female Azami, she was in the midst of cooking reservations-only prix fixe dinners at Inaka Seafood Gourmet. Since then, Nakayama's been busy working on her long-awaited solo project, n/naka, which soft-opened on March 18 in Palms, just down the street from Roy Choi's bowl-centric Chego and a stone's throw away from Scoops Westside. Look out for a grand opening to the public on the 18th. As for the menu, expect a seasonally-changing, omakase-style spread of ten or so courses, priced at around $100.

n/naka Interior
Situated in the former space of Imagen Day Spa and Salon, n/naka was repurposed and reimagined by Tak Toda of TSL Designs. It's a cozy, intimate room, serene and subtly decorated, evocative of a traditional Japanese design aesthetic, yet with a modern twist.

Kyoto Carrot Broth
1: Kyoto Carrot Broth
Nakayama began the meal with a nod toward molecular gastronomymodernist cuisine: a spherification of Kyoto carrot broth, topped with a dollop of crème fraiche and a sprinkle of California white sturgeon caviar. The carrot wasn't nearly as sweet as I'd imagined, with a surprisingly restrained flavor that made for an interesting interaction with the crème. At the same time, the caviar was quite subtle as well, conveying only a slight overtone of salty flair.

Tasmanian Sea Trout Confit
2: Tasmanian Sea Trout Confit
Sea trout was cooked confit style, encrusted with kombu (kelp) and chives, and served with an asparagus-truffle sauce. The result was delectable, with the tender, fatty, beautifully briny trout deftly set off by its herbaceous crust. I really enjoyed the fish alone, but its asparagus and truffle dressing added a further level of luxuriousness to the dish, imbuing the fish with the heady, earthy weight of truffle, but at the same time, balancing things out with the refreshing astringency of asparagus. Very nice!

Live Scallop Sashimi
3: Live Scallop Sashimi
Sashimi of live scallop arrived in its own shell, accompanied by ponzu and yuzu kosho. The mollusk showed off a fantastic consistency--snappy, supple, and silky, and demonstrated a lovely sweetness, which was then elevated even more by the tang of ponzu.

Sashimi Plate
4: Sashimi Plate
Five types of sashimi were offered at this point, served with freshly grated wasabi and soy:
  • Kumamoto - A prototypical example of my favorite oyster, showing off a great, fresh snap and a tasty relish of sweet salinity.
  • Tai - Snapper was mild, yet perfectly heightened by a quick dip in the soy sauce.
  • Kanpachi - Amberjack paired wonderfully with a dab of wasabi, and showed off a beautifully creamy consistency that I adored.
  • Kuromaguro Tataki - Bluefin tuna arrived seared, which contributed a nice bit of extra savoriness, and made for some textural variation.
  • Chutoro - I ended, naturally, with the tuna belly, which I found uncommonly fatty for mere chutoro, with its melty, almost falling-apart texture and decadent mouthfeel.
Kani Koramushi
5: Kani Koramushi
This dish--reminiscent of Urasawa's revelatory kanimiso korayaki--was one of my favorites from my last visit to Inaka, and didn't disappoint this time around either. This is arguably Nakayama's most well-known dish, and consisted of crab, truffle, egg, and shiitake mushroom, all cooked in a hollowed out crab shell. I loved the sweetness of the crustacean here, and how its focused flavor was so deftly married with the earthy intensity of truffle and mushroom, while the egg yolk simply enveloped the dish with an overarching lusciousness.

Poached Foie Gras
6: Poached Foie Gras
Foie gras arrived poached and swimming in a takenoko (young bamboo shoot, only available in the spring time) broth. It was superb, one of the best versions of the liver that I've had in a while. I loved its gorgeously restrained flavor and almost eggy consistency (which reminded me of the foie gras shabu-shabu at Urasawa), as well as the moderating effect of the heady, aromatic bamboo broth. At the same time, we were provided with takenoko gohan, basically a mixture of rice and bamboo. It was a simple preparation, but immensely satisfying, and served to ground the dish.

Wagyu Teppanyaki
7: Wagyu Teppanyaki
Next up was a teppanyaki'd cut of wagyu beef, dressed in a soy, garlic, sesame, and onion sauce. The flavors here were heavy, saccharine, and a bit overwhelming; I really wanted to taste more of the meat's inherent flavor, but it was largely lost. The veggies, however, did help balance things.

Toro & Tai Sushi
8: Toro & Tai Sushi
And now on to the sushi. We began with toro, an utterly luxurious bite that practically melted in my mouth. The snapper, on the other hand, was much more subtle, with a pleasant piquancy from the application of yuzukosho.

Masu & Aji Sushi
9: Masu & Aji Sushi
Here we saw the same Tasmanian sea trout that we had above, but this time in sushi form. It was lovely, probably better than most salmon I've had, with a delightfully in-your-face relish. Spanish mackerel, meanwhile, was characteristically fishy, yet adeptly balanced by a touch of sweetness.

Hamachi Toro & Amaebi
10: Hamachi Toro & Amaebi
Yellowtail belly was firm, fatty, and finished with a great salty kick. Finally, we had sweet shrimp, which showed off a wonderfully crisp consistency and slightly sour smack--yum!

Lobster Pasta
11: Lobster Pasta
This final savory course was added on at our table's request (a $15 supplement). What we had basically amounts to a linguini-like pasta, finished with lobster, carrot, brown butter, and Parmesan foam. The pasta itself was pleasantly al dente in texture, and served as a fitting base for the sweetness of the crustacean and carrot, while the brown butter added a palpable weight to the dish.

Green Tea Soufflé & Frozen Chocolate Mousse
12: Green Tea Soufflé & Frozen Chocolate Mousse
Dessert brought us a green tea soufflé paired with a red bean sauce, an eggy affair perked up by the slight astringency of the green tea. More interesting was the frozen chocolate mousse with banana ice cream. The mousse was constructed using liquid nitrogen, and perhaps due to this, was very hard in consistency, and rather difficult to eat. Its flavors were on point though, and played nicely with its banana accompaniment.

Compared to my last meal at Inaka, Nakayama's cooking here seemed more focused, more mature. It was a fine omakase experience with top-notch ingredients, showing off a trace of globally-inspired flair to go hand in hand with the Chef's Japanese sensibilities. Certainly then, n/naka is shaping up to be another great Japanese option in the West LA vicinity.

11 Comments:

Blogger Rodzilla said...

Everything looks and sounds fantastic. Great write-up as always.

Sunday, April 10, 2011 8:31:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Thanks Rod. n/naka really is a cool place--I hope it does well.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011 1:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Andrea said...

Kevin, I am glad you enjoyed it. I have been to N/Naka a couple times now and find it extraordinary. I believe her version of Kaiseki dining may prove to be one of the best Japanese dining experiences in LA. I just hope she can generate a strong enough following of customers willing to regularly spend over $100 on an Omakase experience as for now there is no a la carte option.

Thursday, April 14, 2011 3:44:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

That's my concern as well. Do you know if she's going to have other omakase options? I've heard talk about a "modern" one and a "traditional" one.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011 2:41:00 PM  
OpenID all-things-andy-gavin.com said...

I checked this out last week too, very very good. Having just read a biography of Ferran Adria I was struct by the resemblance between his ultra-modern tapas and Kaiseki too.

Friday, July 29, 2011 9:00:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Looks great Andy! I'm happy to see that Niki's still going strong. I hope the place manages to stick around though.

Sunday, July 31, 2011 3:50:00 PM  
OpenID all-things-andy-gavin.com said...

I do too. It really is a tricky format. Hopefully she can plug into the Japanese executives on expense account gravy train -- which is I suspect how Totoraku and Urwasawa survive.

Sunday, July 31, 2011 4:25:00 PM  
OpenID all-things-andy-gavin.com said...

We liked N/Naka so much the first time we went back with a larger group and got a totally new set of courses. Review here.

Thursday, August 18, 2011 7:39:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Nice Andy! Looks like Niki just keeps getting better and better--that seems evident just by looking at the photos.

Sunday, August 21, 2011 1:47:00 AM  
OpenID all-things-andy-gavin.com said...

Looks like you went too soon after it opened (or wasn't it before?). You'll have to go again!

Sunday, August 21, 2011 5:07:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Yeah this meal was during her soft opening phase. I definitely see my self returning sometime.

Thursday, August 25, 2011 12:28:00 AM  

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