Going back to California Kaiseki concept that was pushed in the documentary.
One of the tenants of kaiseki or washoku (Japanese cuisine) is the emphasis of “shun” or seasonality.
It’s easy to find examples of this at the high end sushi bar as people know clearly for example, when katsuo migrate outward and return, or that sanma signals fall, and the Japanese salivate when ayu is in season. With Ayu you just do salt grill. In Japan seasonal fruit is also delightful and the applications for them endless. I’ve had fall season persimmons with a simple sesame sauce at a tempura and kaiseki place for dessert, and for another kappo izayaka it was served as an appetizer coated with a tofu shirae sauce. A bit more than just “figs on a plate”, but with an emphasis of being able to taste the natural flavors of the ingredient.
In California, we don’t seem to have a breadth of seafood or produce that screams seasonality as much. Sure Dungies in October, fall (ish) maybe for Santa Barbara uni, and specific months for wild salmon (whether from Northern California or Alaskan King [ok that’s not California], Copper River etc). Farmers markets show seasonality, but my favorite fruit varietals seem to show up more during the summer and if we have extreme weather, the quality and harvest suffers greatly. Perhaps I see this more in subtle ways at the Michelin San Francisco fine dining places, though more so with a broader spectrum (beyond California), but I’m not so sure I can detect it, at least definitely not based on photos with n/Naka.
It’s perfectly fine to attempt California Kaiseki if there is a theme of seasonality and you can truly sense it. I believe in the Gelb documentary there was some mention of seasonality. So having that “pickled” apple whole in the course threw me off. Isn’t that “figs on a plate”?
Regarding the questions posed on the saba and scallop… The saba has a little pink reddish hue but it doesn’t look so vibrant…plus you see a gradation of grey to the side with a glisten that appears to be fat but in the end can’t really tell. It’s definitely a far cry from high end omakase saba. The scallop looks rather textbook, and perhaps it was pre-frozen at some point, nothing wrong with that and usually they also still taste ok. A fresh never frozen scallop shouldn’t look like that (with cracks and all). I wouldn’t have a problem if this was served to me at a low end neighborhood joint. I think the bottom line here is that just based on the photos of the nigiri course, they had a line cook handle and obviously put the least amount of effort and skill in it.
The blue crab salad handroll looks really sad and maybe even the LA spinoffs of Nozawa can do better (seems like more rice than crab). Why not do a California roll as part of the course instead of nigiri? Ripe premium haas Avocado, King Crab, Japanese cucumber, premium Cal Rose rice. I’m sure someone can turn this kaiseki-esque and have fun with it and it will still be California themed! Or pair Santa Barbara uni with something very Caliifornian or something from artisanal farms (lol with Haas avocado toast).