Thursday, April 7, 2011

N\Naka - 04/06/2011

3455 S. Overland Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90034
(310) 836-6252

After having a private dinner at Inaka, I could see the comparison to an Urasawa-lite. The food was creative, elegant, delicious and clearly displayed Chef Niki Nakayama's talent and passion for her craft. After the meal she mentioned that she had plans to open her own place N\Naka and since then I've kept tabs on the restaurant's progress. Previously Chef Nakayama made a name for herself as the owner of Azami, which was notable for its all-female team of sushi chefs. Before that she trained in Japan as well as under Morihiro Onodera of Sushi Mori. After selling Azami she joined her sister at Inaka where she eventually instituted her semi private omakase dinners.

With the soft opening from March 18 to April 18 reserved for friends and family I resigned myself to waiting for the grand opening on April 19 to once again sample Chef Niki's cuisine. Luckily a friend, and longtime Inaka regular, was able to score a sextet of seats and kind enough to give me one. Thanks Diana!

Kyoto Carrot Drop - California White Sturgeon, Creme Fraiche
I thought this might have been an egg yolk at first but it turned out to be carrot of all things. Niki broke out the molecular gastronomy for this course, making a spheriphication using carrots from her own personal garden. I was expecting an explosion of sweet root vegetable but the flavor was actually quite subdued with a yeastiness akin to sweet bread. Even the caviar felt muted with its saltiness only breaking through on the finish.

Tasmanian Sea Trout Confit - White Asparagus Truffle Sauce
Next up was a sublime piece of sea trout supple, tender, and bursting with fishy oils. The fish came with a side of white asparagus and truffle sauce, earthy decadent with a vegetal tinge. Still, as good as the truffle sauce was, I preferred the bright unadulterated brine of the fish on its own.

Live Scallop Sashimi - Ponzu, Yuzu Kocho
I found the natural presentation quite fitting for the live scallop sashimi; the delicacy of the shellfish doesn't call for much adornment. The ponzu provided a savory contrast to the scallops natural sweetness while the yuzu kocho's subtle spice and citrus undertones added complexity to the flavor profile.

Sashimi - Kumamoto Oyster, Tai, Chutoro, Tuna, Kanpachi
Lifting the gauzy leafy covering revealed a bed of glistening cuts of fish resting delicately against one another. The oyster, tai, and seared tuna were good but fairly typical. The chutoro was deliciously tender and offered a richness that left me craving a sliver of N\Naka's o-toro. The Kanpachi was the standout of the bunch; with an initial firm fleshy texture that shifted to a slightly creamy consistency.

Kani Koramushi - Egg, Shitake, Black Truffle
This course is marvelous plain and simple. Kevin compares it to the hairy crab at Urasawa which he labels the best thing he ever ate there. The shredded crab comes in a shitake broth, its umami-tinged earthiness a welcome foil to the crustacean's natural sweetness. The yolk adds a deluge of viscous runny goodness that gives the dish a silky satisfying weight on the palate. The black truffle shavings add a final punctuation of luxury and complexity to the dish.

Foie Gras and Takenoko Soup - Takenoho Bohan
This course also brings back memories of Urasawa, and his foie gras shabu-shabu which is still my number 2 preparation behind The French Laundry's torchon. The broth is made from spring bamboo, and has a fittingly earthy cast to it. The lush pieces of liver dissolve on the palate leaving behind a powerfully satisfying savoriness tinged with an eggy sweetness. The soup was served with a side of rice that I promptly threw into the bowl to sop up the remnants of my foie infused stock.

Waygu Teppan
This was probably the weakest course of the night for me. The straightforward presentation of meat, potatoes, and vegetables laced the grace of our earlier courses. Additionally, the beef felt a bit subdued, though still tender and fatty it lacked the unbridled decadence I crave from Waygu beef.

A classic toro, the marbled veins of fat stand out starkly against the supple pink flesh. Popping the morsel in my mouth filled my senses with the heady aroma of buttery rich fish oil.

Hirame always plays so well with yuzu kocho, the spicy citrus sauce adding liveliness to the tender mild whitefish.

Tasmanian Sea Trout
This reminded me of a fatty wild salmon, the flavor is fairly clean with an ever so slight sweetness.

Despite having a fatty jellied texture, the mackerel's taste was surprisingly subdued. Savory without being overtly oily, the fish also had a faint tang on the finish.

The sweet shrimp was definitely one of the more memorable pieces of the night: robust, snappy, and possessing a slightly metallic tinge that transformed into a sweet creaminess on the finish.

Hamachi Belly
The final nigiri of the night was yellowtail belly, soft but not quite as tender as the toro, the yellowtail also had more of a smoky character instead of the buttery richness of the tuna.

Lobster Pasta - Rum Butter, Parmesan Foam
Still slightly hungry at this point, we asked if we could order the lobster pasta we saw at the table next to us and fortunately Niki was happy to oblige. A sweet buttery sauce and modernist touches make the supple noodles quite enjoyable, though I wish the lobster were a bit more apparent.

Dessert - Green Tea Souffle with Red Bean, Frozen Chocolate Mousse with Banana Ice Cream
The meal ends with a bit of east meets west desserts as well as one last display of molecular flair courtesy of the mousse frozen in liquid nitrogen. Simple enjoyable desserts the sweets were a nice way to cleanse the palate after the seafood heavy affair.

I came to N\Naka with high expectations based on my experience at Inaka and if anything this meal exceeded them. First and foremost, the food is delicious, and served in an intimate serene setting perfectly suited to the food. Beyond that, N\Naka feels like an even more personal expression of Chef Nakayama's passion for cooking; effectively incorporating modernist techniques into a culinary style that reveres tradition. I can't wait until April 19 to try her Modern Kaiseki menu.


Diana said...

Nice post, Ryan! Thanks for coming last night. It was a good time. :) Can't wait for the 19th!

Charlie Fu said...

Man that looks good.

Daily Gluttony said...

Very nice. I've been a huge fan of Niki Nakayama's since her Azami days; can't wait to try the new place!

H. C. said...

Niki is an absolutely charming & talented doll; as much as I miss her in Inaka (which is WAY closer to my place) I'm glad to see she has her own bigger space to pursue bigger culinary dreams!

Anonymous said...

great recap Ryan-- i concur with all of your thoughts on the food. now there's no reason for me to write a post about it :P

sewa mobil said...

Very nice, thanks for the information.

Kingpin said...

i've been looking at these pictures every day since its been posted

Epicuryan said...

Thanks for inviting me. Niki confirmed the meal on the 19th will be mostly new stuff. She even mentioned that she was looking for some "special ingredients."

It was, I highly suggest a visit.

Daily Gluttony,
I would love to hear what your thoughts on N/Naka are compared to Azami.

Haha both are far from me so I'm indifferent, but I agree that she needed her own space. I think the one she's found fits what she is trying to do to a T.

Fair enough, you'll just have to write up the next one.

Sewa Mobil,
Hope you check it out.

You are too kind. The friends and family soft opening ends April 19, after that I suggest you go check it out live.