Thursday, December 11, 2014

n/naka - 10/11/2014

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

I've had Niki Nakayama's food five times now and she's never failed to impress. With my last visit being over a year ago it was well past time for another trip to n/naka.

Saki Zuke - Lobster Potato with Cold Corn Soup, Cream Fraiche, Ikura
Cuvee Jean Phillipe, Limoux, France, '12
The first course was designed to pair something common with something unique and the delectable sphere of lobster and potato is just that. The creamy potato is flecked with bits of lobster sort of like a gentrified seafood croquette. The warm savory mixture is further highlighted by the sweet cold cream soup and a delicate citrus perfume.

Zensai - Lobster Shumai, Grilled Duck, Calamari with Blue Crab, Maguro Poke
Verdejo "Martinsancho", Rueda, Spain '12
Niki took a more traditional approach with the second course, a mix of appetizers emphasizing seasonal fare. First up was more lobster this time in shumai form with a filling that emphasized the snappy texture of the lobster and a numbing spicy dipping sauce. Next up were two slivers of duck that offered the perfect ratio of tender breast and oily fat topped with succulent fragrant onions. Third was a multifaceted blend of snappy calamari stuffed with creamy blue crab. The morsel came with a streak of squid ink that imparted an earthy relish to the dish. After all that the final course of Poké felt almost passe though it was still some of the highest quality Poké that I've ever had.

Modern Zukuri - Japanese Scallop with Bell Pepper Gelee, Golden Kiwi, Dill
Pinot Gris, Domaine Schlumberger, Alsace, France, '12
Jumping back to the contemporary side of things we were presented with four slices of alabaster perfection. The creamy mild mollusk reverberates with the flavors of herbaceous bell pepper, sweet kiwi and tart citrus. Despite all that was going on, I would have liked a bit more savory emphasis on the dish.

Owan "Still Water" - Seabass with Matsutake Mushroom, Dashi Broth
Born Gold, Junmai Daiginjo, Fukui, Japan
One of the joys of late fall and winter is Matsutake season. The mushrooms have a distinctly sharp woody aroma that lends itself well to soup. The dashi broth is on the lighter side, still savory but leaving plenty of room for the twisting sour twang of the citrus as well as the flavor of the mushroom. The accompanying sake is equally as focus, bursting with floral grace but finishing sweet and clean.

Otsukuri - Bluefin Tuna O-Toro, Tai, Shima Aji, Nama Tako, Kumamoto Oyster, Uni
Miyasaka, Yawaraka Junmai, Nagano Japan
Our fifth course consisted of little treasure boxes filled with a variety of immaculate sashimi. The O-toro was an obvious standout, as was the uni, but the nama tako was probably the most unexpected surprise the fresh octopus has a supple slickness that I find enchanting though I recognize it might be off-putting to some.

Yakimono - Pompano with Sweet Baby Bell Pepper, Green Onion
Viognier, Ampelos, Santa Ynez, CA, '11
This was probably the weakest course of the night for me. The grilled fish has a distinctly firmer texture than most of the other courses and the vinegar-ed sauce was a touch too astringent for my liking.

Mushimono/Agemono - Chawanmushi, Uni, Snow Crab, White Truffle
Muller Thurgau, Alto Adige, Italy, '12
Things got right back on course with the steamed dish, a little bowl of silken egg custard filled with treasures like uni and snow crab. If that wasn't enough the course is finished with a generous topping of white truffle imparting an elegant fragrance to the bounty of hearty egg and heady shellfish.

Shiizakana - Spaghettini with Abalone, Pickled Cod Roe, Burgundy Truffles
Sancere, Pascal Jolivet, Loire Valley, France, '12
I'm not sure if this is Niki's signature dish, but I've had the good fortune to try it on each of my last two visits. The pasta is cooked very al dente and dredged with pungent cod roe. Slices of abalone and Burgundy truffle add depth and texture to the dish while the sprouts bring the the slightest touch of cool verdant relief.

Niku - Japan Matsuzaka Wagyu Beef A5
Bordeaux, Chateau Haut Beajesour, Saint Estephe, France, '10
It goes without saying the beef was cooked perfectly, tender and threaded with abundant marbling it was like biting into a pillowy cloud of beefy decadence. The accompanying vegetables are cooked perfectly keeping their inherent flavors and crispness while picking up a hint of char and nuance. The wine was a prototypical Bordeaux but the structure and more austere notes of tar, cocoa, and deep red fruit do well to wash down the weightiness of the meat.

Sunomono - Black Tiger Shrimp with Avocado, Caviar
Yuzu Omoi, Kyoto, Japan
Our final plated course before the nigiri was the evening's "salad" The still-rare prawn is immaculately dressed with avocado, edible flowers and a touch of caviar. The accompanying white miso adds a slightly funky sweetness while the cool chaser of sweet Yuzu Omoi provided a pleasant punctuation to close the Kaiseki.

Shokuji - Suzuki
Dewazakura Izumi Judan, Junmai Ginjo, Yamagata, Japan
Nigiri time! First up was a thick cut of sea bass the warm pink flesh has a jellied consistency and the coolness of the fish works beautifully against the slightly warm rice.

Shokuji - O-Toro
Dewazakura Izumi Judan, Junmai Ginjo, Yamagata, Japan
Next up was more of the fabulous toro this time in nigiri form. The fish doesn't have much apparent marbling but despite the understated appearance the fish still gives off a decadent oily relish.

Shokuji - Amaebi
Dewazakura Izumi Judan, Junmai Ginjo, Yamagata, Japan
The second plate of sushi began with a lovely amaebi the supple white flesh comes coated in a fine layer of shoyu giving some much needed savor to balance the prawn's inherent sweetness.

Shokuji - Aji Mackerel
Dewazakura Izumi Judan, Junmai Ginjo, Yamagata, Japan
The aji had a deep lovely redness shaded with bright silver skin. The bite of the grated ginger tempers the Mackerel's fishy heft.

Shokuji - Mirugai
Dewazakura Izumi Judan, Junmai Ginjo, Yamagata, Japan
This was the evening's most elaborate sushi presentation, the thin sliver of mirugai comes sandwiched between a dab of yuzu kocho and a sliver of shiso. The combination gives the geoduck a mix of brash tangy spice and floral elegance.

Shokuji - Uni
Dewazakura Izumi Judan, Junmai Ginjo, Yamagata, Japan
The nigiri ended on a high note with a minimalist uni preparation. The bright orange roe comes without the common nori wrapper. The result is unfettered sweet saline luxury wrapped in a lush creamy package.

Shokuji - Soba with Tempura Flake
Dewazakura Izumi Judan, Junmai Ginjo, Yamagata, Japan
The final savory is a simple no-frills bowl of soba in a warm dashi broth. The dish feels almost laughably simple compared to the rest of the meal but the simplicity makes it easy to appreciate the homey warmth and perfect texture of the noodles.

Dessert - Black Sesame Creme Brulee, Passion Fruit with Coconut Gelee, Seasonal Fruit
Hannya Tou, Sweet and Spicy Sake, Fukui, Japan
Dessert consisted of a sampling of treats. The desserts are enjoyable enough but lack the finesse of the savories and feel like almost an afterthought. To be fair, the desserts are better than the typical Sushi restaurant fare, but the most interesting part of the dessert was the wine pairing. A shot of golden sake that starts out with a Juicy Fruit like sweetness that picks up a rising heat.

After six visits, the progression of courses has become a bit predictable but the technique and quality are as impressive as ever.

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