Thursday, July 09, 2020

n/naka (Los Angeles, CA) [5]

n/naka Restaurant
3455 Overland Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90034
Thu 07/09/2020, 06:00p-07:15p

If you've been following this blog over the past couple months, you'll probably know that I landed one of n/naka's infamous bento boxes back in June after numerous failed attempts. Now at the end of that post I mentioned that I'd be trying for Niki Nakayama's higher-end kaiseki jubako option in the coming weeks, and surprisingly, I was able to score one rather easily when slots opened up on July 4th; I'm guessing that the holiday threw people off.

n/naka Kaiseki Jubako Line
As was the case last line, there was a bit of a backup when I arrived at the restaurant, but fortunately, the line dispersed more quickly this time around.

n/naka Kaiseki Jubako Contents
Above we see the entirety of what I received with my meal.

n/naka Kaiseki Jubako Menu n/naka Kaiseki Jubako Menu (Lid)
The various dishes were listed on the lid of the bento box, though a separate menu was also provided. As for the cost, it was $85 a head, plus optional 20% gratuity and 9.5% tax. Click for larger versions.

n/naka Kaiseki Jubako Box
n/naka Kaiseki Jubako First Layer Opened
n/naka Kaiseki Jubako First Layer Opened
The upper layer of food is revealed.

n/naka Kaiseki Jubako Layer 1 Compartment 1
Braised Abalone with Liver and Truffle Sauce / Japanese Roasted Duck with Mustard / Unagi Avocado
The first compartment I tried was arguably my favorite of the bunch. The duck ate intensely savory and potent and yes, very "ducky," so the mustard definitely worked as a counterpoint. Such a balance was also achieved with the eel, its sweet, briny heft evened out by the relative lightness of avocado. The best thing here, though, was that supple, yet almost crunchy Monterey Bay awabi. The key was the accompanying sauce, which combined earthy liver with even earthier truffle in a creamy package that meshed perfectly with the abalone--I sort of wanted to use that sauce on everything.

n/naka Kaiseki Jubako Layer 1 Compartment 2
American Wagyu Tataki Salad / Ponzu Oroshi
Relatively lean cuts of wagyu were smartly paired with slivers of zesty scallion, all while the ponzu provided a permeating tartness that really livened things up. That being said, what really completed the dish for me was the sheer bitterness of the greens.

n/naka Kaiseki Jubako Layer 1 Compartment 3
Sashimi Selection
Next came a trio of sashimi. I began with the tuna, which I found pillowy and super clean-tasting, with a marked sweetness; naturally, it really opened up with a dab of wasabi and soy. The shrimp, meanwhile, ate fresh and snappy, while the sea bream featured a supple consistency and focused brine that linked up nicely with the included lemon.

n/naka Kaiseki Jubako Layer 1 Compartment 4
Sushi / Sushi Gari / Tamagoyaki
Sashimi was followed by sushi. Kinmedai was well balanced, and had a palpable heft and richness to it that I quite enjoyed. As for the halibut(?), it was great texturally, while flavors were mild, the rice really coming to the fore. The toro was my favorite of the set, and I found it super lush and melt-in-your-mouth, just as I was expecting. I ended with the tamago, a pretty classic example that kept a fine balance between savory and sweet.

To drink, I had a bottle of the 2019 The Rare Barrel Bae Breeze, a blended golden sour ale aged in oak with pineapple, cranberry, grapefruit, and lime zest. The beer smelled of tropical fruit (pineapple in particular), but with a bit of a "soapy" character. Tasting it, I got more of those ripe fruit flavors and floral elements up front, along with bursts of acidity and tart citrus, all leading to a pronounced sweet spiciness on the back end.

n/naka Kaiseki Jubako Second Layer Opened
And here we see the second tier.

n/naka Kaiseki Jubako Layer 2 Compartment 1
Vegetable Takiawase / Eggplant, Squash, Snap Peas, Maitake, and Carrots / Eggplant Sesame Sauce
The star of the show here was definitely the sauce, which perfectly combined the tart-smokiness of eggplant with the nuttiness of sesame. It lent a delightful potency and complexity to the bright, crisp veggies.

n/naka Kaiseki Jubako Layer 2 Compartment 2
Grilled Seasonal Fish with Daikon, Sansho, and Ikura
Binchotan-grilled fish was full-flavored to be sure, and showed off a lovely smoky quality that linked up beautifully with the greens and crunchy cuts of cucumber. As for the ikura, it was as saline as expected, but at the same time, tempered by a base of tangy, bitter grated daikon.

n/naka Kaiseki Jubako Layer 2 Compartment 3
Crispy Lobster Nanbanzuke / Lobster Chawanmushi / California and Japanese Rice / Pickled Ume
The nanbanzuke was a highlight thanks to how it so effectively conveyed the sweet essence of lobster. Curiously enough, it had a familiar, almost Chinese-y sort of flavor profile. The lobster also made a good showing in the egg custard, where its sweet salinity peppered the dish's cozy, eggy umami. Rounding out this compartment was a portion of rice, which I enjoyed throughout the meal.

n/naka Kaiseki Jubako Soup
Iwanori Miso Soup
The requisite miso soup was more potent than usual, I'm guessing due to the incorporation of shrimp, while bits of scallion provided a much appreciated zestiness.

n/naka Kaiseki Jubako Dessert
Matcha White Chocolate Cake / Peach Almond Tofu / Passion Fruit Chocolate
Last up was dessert. Beautifully textured, the passion fruit-chocolate truffle featured an initial nuttiness that led to lingering notes of tropical fruit, while the cake was relatively subdued with regard to the green tea. My favorite item here was actually the annindofu thanks to its familiar sweetness, which was punctuated and perfumed by tart peach.

The kaiseki jubako was a very agreeable meal indeed, and certainly a step up from the bento box I had on my last visit. That being said, it's of course not really a match for the food that's served at n/naka under normal circumstances, so I'm hoping to pay the restaurant a proper visit once the coronavirus passes, though of course that could be a while.


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