N/naka ...101


#1

A Few Shots from the Magic that was N/Naka last night. Bliss!
I was there about 3 months ago and clearly they served me a very different meal - leaving out things I saw others getting last night, that I had so recently. Very thoughtful and careful.

Shrimp Toast with a bit of Avocado Soup

Uni with Snow Crab and Mountain Potato

Lobster Cake in Tomato Soup

Abalone Pasta

Waygu with Foie Gras


July 2016 weekend rundown
#2

Hi @CiaoBob,

Nice! What was your favorite last night? :slight_smile:

And how far in advance did you have to book it? Thanks.


#3

It was all quite amazing (menu below).
My pictures were my faves - the uni/snow crab, waygu/foie/miso and spaghettini, shrimp toast too.
Of the smaller dishes the Nasu and Shishito with Miso was unbelievable.

I was there in early April, celebrating a friends birthday, not my reservation. While there I asked them for next available on a Friday for the early seating - this was it. So, 3.5 months.


#4

This seems very different from J_Ls recent meal there. Does the menu change daily or by guest?


#5

Menu changes, probably not daily, but quite often depending on what Ms. Nakayama finds at the markets, or what is in season. Special requests will also be honored (to the extent feasible), though dietary requests will not (i.e., vegan or gluten-free).


#6

She (like so many great chefs) keeps tabs on what menu has been served to what customers on what dates. Unless specifically requested, no two meals will be the same there for any one customer. It keeps things special, even if you decide to go back to n/naka the very next week.

Since CiaoBob was just there 3.5 months ago…


#7

Thanks @J_L. I was just writing that.

If you have Netflix @Aesthete (and haven’t seen it) watch the Niki Nakayama episode of Chef’s Table. It’s pretty fascinating. They also have an episode on Enrique Olveras and show that 700-Day-Old Mole you had at Pujol.


#8

I personally found the n/naka episode of chefs table horrifying. It turned me off from going to n/naka.


#9

Oh well…


#10

To be fair it seems like Niki herself said she didn’t want to be presented as just a woman chef… But they we’re complete assholes and seemed to portray her completely as if the main draw of n/naka was that it is a kaiseki restaurant run by a female chef.

They sort of retroactively did her no favors by featuring Crenn in the new season.

Both might be great chefs but now it seems that Chefs table is just purely picking women chefs as a sort of sexist cop out for its American West Coast picks…I get that it is an easy default when only 1 out of the seven 2+ Michelin star places on the West Coast is run by a woman but it still sucks that it feels sort of obvious they are picking her because she is a woman.

Now that they’ve exhausted the LA woman and the SF woman will they go on to make episodes about Skenes, Lee and Kinch? They all have more Michelin stars and would be insanely fascinating to have an episode on. But they keep mentioning how Crenn is the only 2+ Michelin star female chef. Just like Nakayama is continually referenced not for her prowess but for being the only female kaiseki chef…

Why is there so much emphasis on the genitals of the chef???

Really upset me I guess.

Also, N/Naka is a genuine 3 month wait. Not like Bestia where you can just walk in if you want, you legitimately have to wait 3 months for a table… depaite all of the places I eat, I rarely make plans 3 months out that I can stick to. But I guess it must mean something good because you can get into Saison and Crenn and pretty much anywhere else in CA in less time.

Anywho I’m just rambling. And to be clear this is about Chefs Table, no Chef Nakayama. She expressed not wanting to be seen as a female chef. I should have just turned the stupid episode off after that. Sigh.


#11

I don’t want to get too far off topic. I do remember having some of the same thoughts. But still, it is the elephant in the room. She is a successful female sushi chef in a male dominated world. For her to also take a risk and do kaiseki (in L.A.) is intriguing to me. But what I really payed attention to were the type of things J_L wrote above, and of course the food.

I don’t want to talk about the 2nd season of CT, in particular the Crenn episode. It made me want to throw my shoe at the TV.


#12

The thing is… I try to remove my bias when watching Chef’s Table, and I feel like without the hometown LA bias, the N/Naka episode also would make you want to throw your shoe at the TV, hence my problem with it.

To me… it is not an elephant in the room. But it seriously worries me when people bring it up. Niki was an ambiguous enough of a name that I didn’t even realize it was a female chef for a long while. I initially skimmed through Kevineats coverage just looking at photos and descriptions of the food, and never caught on. It worries me tremendously when people keep parading the genitals of the chef out there… my worry is that maybe people are heaping on the praise because she is the only female kaiseki chef that is successful out of some political ideals. So it completely makes sense to me why the chef herself doesn’t want to be known as a female kaiseki chef, but just a kaiseki chef… as a potential diner, I too would rather she be evaluated as such.

If I can simplify: if people are evaluating her as a female kaiseki chef then she is the best in the world…since she is the only one. When people append “female” or “woman” to her chef title, it makes me seriously wonder what that means…is she not as good as the males? If she is, then why not just say “she is the nth best kaiseki chef in the world” why say “she is the best female kaiseki chef in the world?” It makes it seem like maybe she is a terrible kaiseki chef, but you know, the only woman even capable of doing it, so she gets a huge pass…

I know that sounds terrible, but I have seen a lot of this in my personal life. People seem very ready to heap praise on women just for doing something and being women… and one of my main goals in life is to avoid eating mediocre meals, and unfortunately the way the Chef’s Table episode represented Chef Nakayama really made it seem like they were in this camp of politically correct people aiming for a political cause instead of genuinely appreciating a chef’s talents…

To me, there is no elephant in the room; either someone can do something, or they cannot… I really never thought about her being a woman before making the mistake of watching that episode where they emphasized it so much that it seemed the main reason for dining at N/Naka was because it is the only woman-run kaiseki place in the world… eating in such a politically correct/novelty fashion holds less than zero appeal to me.

I am still trying to get over how bad the episode was so I can force myself to try it though. Bob at least likes Bestia and Hatchet Hall, so if he likes N/Naka, that tells me I might have a good time there after all.


#13

Hmmm… Not bad. I’m going to watch the episode again. But, the only real way to know is to eat her food :wink:.

Goodnight Night Owl.


#14

Of course you will. It is the best restaurant in LA. Not sure any other place is even close. The sourcing, preparation, thougtfullness, ambiance and service are extraordinary.

As JL says, and I noted, the menu is set each night and is quite seasonal, but they do variations to avoid some repetition. The abalone spaghettini though, was (a very welcome) repeat from April but everything else was different.

I will say one thing about the whole “genital discussion” above. Unlike most other cultures the Japanese for years - and probably many to this day - where terribly resistant to even training women as chefs: in particular sushi chefs. I have heard and read some really dumb-ass stuff justifying the oppression - “women’s hands are too warm and will heat up the fish” is my “favorite.” I think that puts Niki’s life and success in a somewhat different perspective. She was determined to get trained in sushi and her first joint on Melrose was a pure sushi bar. It was quite an achievement. Think how many other female itamae you have seen. I don’t recall if the show pointed that out or not.


#15

i have not seen the program in question.

i think an argument could be made most cultures were more resistant to training female chefs.
it would be nice if we lived in a colourblind world free from sexism.
since we dont, when a person achieves something in a field that historically discriminated against them, that’s news. its a legit angle (though of course, not the only one) through which to tell a story.
while the chef might not like this approach, since she agreed to do the show, its not her choice to make.
the show – again, i have not seen it – is not a commercial for n/naka.
the chef is welcome to make any show she likes about herself and her restaurant. also, i dont mean to seem harsh, but perhaps not having exactly the show you wanted is the price you pay for the resounding success of the exposure and subsequent uptick in business.

i also think its presumptuous and pretentious to accuse the filmmakers of being “p.c.” (interesting article in todays ny times magazine on the term).
their motivations are their own, and their goal probably to get eyeballs on the screen more than anything. this of course is merely my opinion.


#16

I agree with all of this and wanted to make 3 points, some of which are echoing CiaoBob.

  1. It is the best meal I’ve had in LA, period. I’ve only gone once, both because of cost, time, and just the fact that I want to try other places. But I will return soon. I love it, regardless of the genitals of the cook.

  2. Chef’s Table is not purely about food. Virtually every episode focuses substantially on personal life and obstacles the person in question has overcome. The point is to give you a window into the personal lives of the people who deliver such special food, so you know where this kind of thing comes from. Does this concept really need explaining? In the case of Ms. Nakiyama, her story of overcoming prejudice is unique both because of the history of anti-female bias in the Japanese cooking world, and a family member (her brother) who appeared to be actively rooting for her to fail in order to keep that structural bias in place. I found the story really interesting, as did everyone I’ve ever heard comment on it other than Aesthete.

  3. The first time I went to Tokyo, I did something kind of touristy. I went on this walking tour of the city hosted by a Tokyo local who had gone to college at UCLA and then lived in the U.S. for a couple of years. The tour was great. Toward the end of the day, over a drink, the group got to talking about sushi and sushi culture in Japan. One woman, from Australia, asked why there were so few female sushi chefs. From there, we got a long history on how difficult it has been for women to break into the industry, including for (scientifically false) reasons like their hands warming the rice. In short, men have worked hard to keep it a male-dominated industry, and have propagated myths to keep women out. Long story short: it was not women, or Niki, who decided the genitals of the chef should matter. It was Japanese men. In that context, her success despite being a woman is highly relevant.

As Anthony Bourdain will tell you, food is about more than ingredients and technique. Sometimes it can give you a window into a culture. Kaiseki in particular is steeped in Japanese culture, and the fact that a woman is doing it allows a more interesting story about gender inequality in Japan. Like you, I am horrified by the story and background–but for different reasons apparently.


#17

You’re pretty spot-on for not having seen the episode. What the episode boils down to IMHO is the tenacity of a person who not only eventually overcomes incredible bias, but also excels at creating a level and style of cuisine that is otherwise unmatched here in SoCal - possibly even in the whole of the US.

What separates Niki is the attention to detail, not just to the food, but to each individual guest. The crazy matrices that she encounters on a daily basis, in sincerely trying to give repeat guests a new experience each time, while accommodating the multitudes of individual food restrictions and preferences while incorporating ingredients where most are at their peak at the given time is something she doesn’t have to do.

Most places at this general level of eating are probably close to or as capable at creating exquisite dishes. But how many actually consider you to be a guest at Niki’s level of intimacy? Menus filled with wonderful dishes sourced from seasonal ingredients and talented execution have become much easier to find. You pick and choose from what is offered on the menu. Niki considers you to be an honored guest and attempts to orchestrate a culinary symphony, not one for all of her twenty some-odd guests to take in aggregate, but potentially 26 symphonies performed simultaneously to each individual guest.


#18

Beautifully stated.

I believe I told this story on the old CH LA Board, it really shows Niki’s integrity, so I will repeat it here.

Shorty after n/naka opened I went there with a party of 8. It was about 80% great (not as great as what they are doing now, but the promise was evident). I wrote a short note to them with a bit of constructive criticism. I asked for, and wanted, nothing but for them to succeed. Niki wrote back insisting I tell all of my guests that she wanted the chance to make them a perfect meal and that they were all invited back for a meal on the house. When I told her I did not think that was necessary - or even “right” or “fair” - she told me the tradition of kaiseki demands that she sincerely make that offer and that her teachers would be very upset with her if she did not make every effort to correct the mistakes that were made. I did pass her offer on, I don’t think any of the guests took her up on the offer, nor did I. However, I did later accept a bottle of wine on the house, instead of a whole meal. Mama did not raise a fool (or maybe she did, taking the whole meal might have been smarter).

PS We have kind-of hijacked this July 2016 Weekend thread and thrown up an n/naka informational… @ipsedixit please, come to the rescue…


#19

Now that’s Integrity.


#20

THAT is Japan.