Nice Ambiance, Pretty Plating, Pleasant and Underwhelming - n/naka [Thoughts + Pics]

Double LOL. I would probably start sweating.

:scream:

In fairness to n/naka, the website states in two separate places that you should expect to be there for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Although I live a few blocks away from n/naka, I won’t eat there because the chef has no regard for using fish that is sustainable fished.

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Very interesting @BradFord.

This

…and this.

We sat next to two women at Aburiya Raku’s bar the other night. They had never been and just happened upon it. We explained they were lucky on this one, as it’s one of the premier places. They had a little sashimi and mostly grilled food. One had some knowledge, really liked the food and said she had been all around Japan. Then I heard her say on the phone “We’re at this sweet little sushi spot”. :roll_eyes:

Went there 3x each time finished in 3 hours YMMV.

Update:

I had always wanted to make a return visit to n/naka, the Modern Kaiseki restaurant from Chef-Owner Niki Nakayama (previously of Azami Sushi Cafe and Takao), hoping that our first disappointing visit might’ve just been an off night.

But n/naka is probably one of the hardest reservations to get in L.A., always booked solid for the next 3 months in advance, and it being one of only 6 restaurants in Los Angeles to receive 2 Michelin Stars just made it even harder. Thankfully we were lucky enough to finally get a follow-up reservation.

Walking in, you find yourself in a small waiting area with a wooden sliding door. As you await your table, you are now greeted by their new Michelin award:

We are quickly welcomed and brought to our table. The dining room is packed (it is a small restaurant) and while it is low key, the problem is that some tables are rather close to others so you can hear the entire conversation of strangers next to you, even if you’re trying to enjoy your own date night.

"Welcome Sake" - Sake Made With Chardonnay Grapes:

Our server pours us their “Welcome Sake,” which she mentions is made with Chardonnay Grapes. Lightly sweet, definitely more fruity and jammy than traditional Sake.

Sakizuke Course - Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp), Smoked Avocado, Edamame, Caviar, Tosazu Gelee:

The Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp) was vibrant, the dish as a whole was delicate and nicely balanced. The surprise was the Smoked Avocado, which added not only the usual creaminess, but a real, deep smoke flavor that paired nicely with the Amaebi. The only downside to this dish was that the Sweet Shrimp portion was tiny, probably 1/3 of a medium-sized Spot Prawn, but it is supposed to be a small bite starter. :wink:

Manzairaku - Junmai Ginjo Sake (Ishikawa, Japan):

Our server recommended the Manzairaku from Ishikawa, Japan. It’s made with Yamada Nishiki Rice, and was very easy drinking, lightly sweet, dry with a clean finish. (@beefnoguy have you tried their Junmai Daiginjo version?)

Zensai Course - Tuna Tartare with Truffle Caviar, Kumamoto Oyster, Peach, A5 Wagyu Beef Potato Croquette, Morokyu, Goma Tofu Uni, Enoki Ohitashi:

One thing that n/naka excels at is beautiful plating. The Zensai Course arrives and looks like a work of art.

Tuna Tartare with Truffle Caviar:

The first bite of the Zensai Course is their Tuna Tartare, which is fine, a touch mushy in mouthfeel. The Truffles are outstanding quality, so fragrant it saved this dish.

Kumamoto Oyster with Ponzu and Coconut Ice:

This was a neat idea, however the “Coconut Ice” had no actual Coconut flavor. :frowning: But the Kumamoto Oyster was very fresh and bright. :slight_smile:

A5 Wagyu Beef Potato Croquette (Miyazaki, Japan):

Sadly this was overcooked A5 Wagyu Beef. :sob: Not only was it overcooked, you couldn’t taste any beefiness (just some overcooked Beef meatiness). The Fried Potato in the Croquette was fine. (Also minor point, but if n/naka is going for a Michelin Starred experience, perhaps they should eliminate typos: The menu listed this as “Croquet” (the sport) when it should’ve been spelled “Croquette”.)

Morokyu:

This literally tasted like the sum of its parts, Cucumber and a dab of Miso. :frowning: Yes, it’s inherently simple, but we’ve had Morokyu at many places that were all tastier than this preparation (at a fraction of the cost).

Goma Tofu Uni:

This was delicious: The Housemade Gomadofu (Sesame Tofu) is infused with Matcha Green Tea, topped with a fresh bit of Santa Barbara Uni and a dab of Fresh Wasabi. Nuttiness, creaminess, sweetness from the very fresh Uni all combine into a beautiful bite. :blush:

Enoki Ohitashi:

This was OK.

Peach:

A bite of ripe, farmers market Peach. Nicely sweet.

Shichida - Hiyaoroshi - Junmai Sake (Saga, Japan):

We love Shichida’s Spring Limited Sake releases, but this was a pleasant surprise for their Autumn Seasonal Sake: A Hiyaoroshi Junmai Sake using Aiyama Rice. It tasted nothing like the amazing Springtime Muroka Nama Genshu, but it was standout in its own way, almost tasting of Persimmons. Tasty! :slight_smile:

Modern Zukuri Course - Tasmanian Sea Trout, Finger Lime, Shiso Leaf, Black Garlic, Aged Shoyu (Soy Sauce):

Two of the pieces of the Tasmanian Sea Trout had inedible gristle in them! :cry: In addition, one piece of the Sea Trout had way too big a portion of Shiso, which overpowered the Fish completely (and I love Shiso Leaf). :frowning: The Sea Trout was also very fishy and briny. :frowning: On a positive note, the Black Garlic and Aged Soy Sauce were delicious.

Owan Course - Dashi Broth, Tai (Wild Sea Bream), Shungiku, Tofu, Maitake, Uni Powder:

While the actual Tai (Wild Sea Bream) itself was cooked into oblivion (it tasted more like it was the meat cooked completely into the Broth), the Dashi Broth made from the Tai and its Bones with Kelp was outstanding! :heart: The Fresh Tofu with Maitake Mushrooms, and the Shungiku (Chrysanthemum Greens) all complemented a very pure, wonderful, delicate Broth. :slight_smile:

Otsukuri Course - Traditional Sashimi:

Maguro - Tuna (Hawaii, U.S.A.):

This was mushy. :frowning:

Buri - Wild Yellowtail (Miyagi, Japan):

There was some nice fattiness giving it some lusciousness, but it wasn’t very bright.

Kinmedai - Golden Eye Snapper (Kanagawa, Japan):

The Kinmedai’s skin was chewy. The actual flesh was strangely very soft.

Hotate - Scallop (Hokkaido, Japan):

Usually one of my favorite pieces for Sushi or Sashimi, especially Hotate from Hokkaido, this was also mushy and too soft. :frowning:

Definitely some of the weakest Sashimi we’ve had in awhile. Very disappointing.

Shunka Shusetsu Echizen - Junmai Ginjo Sake (Fukui, Japan):

This was so clean and bone dry. Absolutely a delight to drink! :blush:

Yakimono Course - Grilled Branzino, Eucalyptus, Rabbit Tobacco, Poha Berry:

Beautiful presentation for this course, it reminded us of something you might see at Atelier Crenn.

The Smoked and Grilled Branzino was perfectly cooked with a crisped up skin, moist, delicate meat with a wonderful smokiness. :blush:

The Eggplant was lukewarm and underseasoned. The Pickled Ginger detracted from the Branzino (and I love Ginger). :frowning:

Mushimono Course - Steamed Uni, Kegani (Japanese Hairy Crab), Satoimo (Taro):

We really liked the presentation with the Kegani (Japanese Hairy Crab) whipped with Satoimo (Taro) puree, and topped with Santa Barbara Uni and an Ankake Dashi Broth. It is very light, cloud-like, giving you this wonderful mouthfeel. However the “Variable Uni” strikes again: The Santa Barbara Uni was generally fresh, but had a noticeable tinge of bad ocean water, really overpowering the rest of this dish. :cry:

Looking beyond that, the rest of the dish was very good, but it lacked that extra little spark to make this legendary.

Shiizakana Course - Spaghetti, Abalone, Pickled Cod Roe, Summer Truffles:

There is no other course that I was looking forward to more on this return visit than Chef Nakayama’s Spaghetti with Abalone dish. It is her signature dish on the n/naka menu that is never taken off the menu (according to our server). The last time we were here, our Spaghetti arrived lukewarm-cold, which really ruined things. This time, armed with encouragement from our fellow FTC’ers, I was ready to ask for a replacement if it happened again. Thankfully it did not.

Arriving hot this time, Chef Nakayama’s Spaghetti with Abalone is simply stellar! It begins with a bite of Black Abalone (Monterey, California), meaty with a nice tender chew, then a bite of perfectly al dente Spaghetti that is completely coated with a lightly briny, delicious Mentaiko (Pickled Cod Roe) Sauce. The Summer Truffles from Umbria, Italy are very fragrant, and the whole dish just sings in glorious harmony! :heart:

Highlight of the evening. :blush:

Niku Course - A5 Miyazaki Wagyu Beef Rib Cap, Cauliflower:

The middle of this piece of A5 Wagyu Beef is buttery, but the entire outer edge is a touch chewy, and the entire bite just lacks any real explosion of luscious flavor that a great preparation of A5 Wagyu Beef can have. It’s fine, but that’s about it.

The Pickled Cauliflower, Shishito Pepper and Cauliflower Puree help to provide some alternate complementing flavors.

Sunomono Course - Pickled Daikon Radish, Golden Kiwi, Wakame:

Meant as a palate cleanser after the fatty meat course, it was a small bite blend of tart from the Pickled Daikon Radish, sweet from the Kiwi with some savoriness from the Seaweed.

Yuzu Sake:

A pleasant citrus-y chaser also part of the Sunomono Course.

Shokuji Course - Nigiri Sushi:

Buri - Wild Yellowtail (Miyagi, Japan):

The Buri itself was lightly fatty and meaty and fresh. However their Sushi Rice remains the weak link: It wasn’t as awful as last time (where it was mushy), but it’s still rather wet, on the softer side, and just sort of there, lacking any distinct characteristic. :frowning:

Saba - Mackerel (Wakayama, Japan):

The progression feels all off for the Sushi Course, with the heaviest, most pungent, big flavored Fish (Saba) being served as the second piece?

The Mackerel was OK. It was inherently oily, with the most in-your-face flavors of the Sushi we had, but it doesn’t shine like the great Saba we’ve had with local Sushi masters like Shunji-san, Maru-san (Mori Sushi) or Take-san (Shin Sushi). And the soft Rice also didn’t help.

Miso Soup:

This was fine. I liked the use of Iwanori (Rock Seaweed).

Katsuo - Wild Bonito (w/ Garlic Chip and Ponzu) + Akamutsu - Sea Perch (Nagasaki, Japan):

The Katsuo was fine. A touch soft for the flesh with the soft Sushi Rice.

Akamutsu is one of my favorite Fish, and while the knife work and soft Sushi Rice detracted a bit, the Sea Perch itself was lightly fatty and delicate.

A5 Wagyu Beef (Miyazaki, Japan) + Uni & Ikura - Sea Urchin (Santa Barbara, U.S.A.) & Salmon Roe (Hokkaido, Japan):

The A5 Wagyu Beef Sushi was completely overcooked. :sob: There was zero real A5 Wagyu beefiness in this bite, and it was a chore to eat. :cry: It was flat out awful.

The Santa Barbara Uni was fine, slightly fishy but still relatively sweet. The Ikura (Salmon Roe) lacked any pop whatsoever.

Blue Crab Handroll (Indonesia):

The Nori (Seaweed) wrapper was semi-crisp, but the filling was primarily very salty and lightly briny. :frowning:

The pacing for the Sushi Course was horrendous: They brought out the first 2 pieces of Sushi, and the Miso Soup, then within 1 minute, the brought out the next 2 pieces of Sushi(!). Then after that, we were just finishing up the 2nd piece with a bit of the Miso Soup they served with it, and they brought over the 5th and 6th pieces of Sushi in less than a minute after that. :expressionless: :frowning:

Time for Dessert.

Yogurt Sorbet, Okinawan Brown Sugar Syrup, Aka Shiso Granita, Red Currant:

The Yogurt Sorbet was not good: It was really tart and milky, with some tang, this wasn’t pleasant. :frowning:

Aka Shiso Granita was very good, so fragrant from the Shiso Leaf, refreshing and enjoyable. :slight_smile:

Squash Apple Sorbet, Squash Chip, Kabocha Pumpkin Mousse Cake, Kushi Apple, Pumpkin Seeds:

Initially, just as the dish is being set down, it looks like a cute presentation, and maybe something special. When you look closer you see that all of the pieces of the Apple Jelly and Apple Pieces are totally unevenly cut. But then you take a bite, and your realize the entire thing is just Amateur Hour. :roll_eyes: (I don’t say this lightly, because the entire staff seems so nice.)

The Kabocha Pumpkin Mousse Cake is mediocre at best: The Cake is dry. The Chantilly Cream filling is basic. The bits of Apple and Apply Jelly are muted. :frowning:

When you think about the stunning Dessert Courses from places like Atelier Crenn, or Californios, it puts n/naka to shame. It’s not even in the same universe. And both of those are also Michelin 2 Star restaurants when we went (Crenn is now 3 this year).

Even the Desserts and various Cakes of more casual places like Pastry Chef Margarita Manzke at Republique, Pastry Chef Zoe Nathan at Huckleberry Cafe, or going even simpler with Pastry Chef Keiko Nojima at Patisserie Chantilly, or Nagomi Cake House are so far superior in execution to this Kabocha Cake at n/naka it’s baffling. :expressionless: :frowning:

Hojicha (Roasted Japanese Green Tea):

In another noteworthy hiccup in service, we didn’t get our Hojicha Tea until after our last Dessert (above) arrived. :frowning:

Mignardise - Chocolate Truffle, Sansho Pepper, Hazelnut:

This was a pleasant finisher, not overly sweet, with a nice crunch from the Hazelnut and a little bit of a kick from the Sansho Pepper.

Service was fine. When compared to most of the restaurants in L.A., where we’ve truly gotten to an “L.A. casual / laid back” level of amateur service, n/naka’s service is probably one of the best in L.A. easily. However, when comparing it to other Michelin Starred destinations even just in the same Golden State, such as world-class Saison (when Chef Joshua Skenes was still there), Atelier Crenn, Californios, Benu to name a few, n/naka’s service is easily the worst of that group: Servers clear out plates pretty quickly, but you feel their presence constantly. They are quickly rushing around the restaurant, they will sometimes reach across from you to take plates and put down silverware without saying anything. They rushed the courses during Sushi, they forgot to bring Hojicha until the very end or refill drinks at times.

And while this seems a bit nitpicky, when dinner at n/naka now costs over $400 per person since receiving their 2 Michelin Stars, this is part of the experience that should matter.

Dining at n/naka results in a pleasant evening, where you can experience a more modern interpretion of Kaiseki cuisine. It feels like a special occasion or date night restaurant, and the visual presentation of many of the plates alone makes it engaging and Instagram-worthy for those that care about that. The Wild Sea Bream Dashi Broth, the Grilled & Smoked Branzino were outstanding. The Spaghetti with Abalone Pasta was amazing and stellar.

However, outside of that, most of our meal ranged from fine / OK to a few terrible items like the completely overcooked A5 Wagyu Beef Sushi and the Kabocha Cake. :frowning:

The Sushi remains one of the weakest aspects at n/naka: In the past year, we’ve been fortunate enough to revisit Take-san at Shin Sushi, Shunji-san at Shunji, Maru-san at Mori Sushi, and we had our 1st visit to Yoshizumi-san at Sushi Yoshizumi. It is not hyperbole to say that ALL of those places are so far ahead of what n/naka is serving as Sushi that it’s laughable.

You would hope that every meal you go out to enjoy should move you in some way. To deliver some culinary experiences and highlights that blow away your palate and engage you, and stay with you. That usually doesn’t happen that often, but when you’re dropping over $400 per person (even removing the drinks, it would’ve cost over $360 per person), you would hope that dinner at n/naka would be one of those times. Sadly it was not the case. I remember reading some news outlets angrily protesting that n/naka should’ve been L.A.'s first Michelin 3 Star restaurant, which is ridiculous. Even 2 Stars feels off at this point, but I’ll leave it to our fine dining experts to evaluate that (@BradFord @beefnoguy @J_L @PorkyBelly @A5KOBE @Sgee and others).

n/naka
3455 S. Overland Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Tel: (310) 836-6252

https://n-naka.com/

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Ouch

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So sorry your experience was less than. I’ve been wanting to try n/naka, but if I’m shelling out $400, it better be a stellar evening of fine dining. I think I’d rather spend about $100 more and get two trips out of Hayato…if I can ever get in, again.

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Thanks @attran99. I totally agree with you. :slight_smile:

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That’s odd, it’s always $400 + $20 for the after dinner pizza for me.

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Yikes. Well, thanks for taking one for the team! Now I don’t have to go again to see if MY first disappointing dinner there was a fluke…and I’m now looking forward even more to my upcoming dinner at Hayato…

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Been here twice and not worth it… don’t fall for the hype.

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Excuse my noobness, but regarding your Welcome sake made with chardonnay. Isn’t that called wine??

Thanks @happycat. I really wish it didn’t turn out that way. There were still some highlights that I noted above, but given the price and how difficult it is to get in, it was too much of a mixed experience for us. I hope you have a great dinner at Hayato! Looking forward to hearing about it. :slight_smile:

Never heard of a welcome sake that was from Chardonnay. Unless they lifted the idea from L’Effervescence Tokyo and other high end French restaurants over there where they do a blend of Chardonnay with sake. Did you taste both white wine and sake in your drink?

I’ve only had Manzairaku Junmai and their Yamahai Junmai, haven’t had anything else of theirs. I do prefer the Junmai over the Yamahai Junmai personally. The Junmai Daiginjo, you must be referring to this one: https://www.truesake.com/products/manzairaku-junmai-daiginjo-hakusan?_pos=1&_sid=2a114aea3&_ss=r

You tasted the Shichida Hiyaroshi Junmai Aiyama before I did (I just picked up a bottle a few days ago). Last year’s Shichida Hiyaroshi was Omachi and I really enjoyed that one (more earthy and masculine). Aiyama tends to be a touch more fruity if not more aromatic, but very rare to have any sake made from that rice exported, let alone in Hiyaroshi form and also only polished to 75% (many higher end Juyondai are brewed with Aiyama rice). Usually all three versions of the Shichida Hiyaroshi are available in Japan each fall (Omachi, Aiyama, Yamadaho) but it looks like the importer only gets in one of the three each year. I assume you had a sake pairing? How much did they charge, or did you actually purchase the entire bottle (and if so what were the prices of the bottles for all the sake you had?) I barely remember the Shichida Hiyaroshi Omachi, but it was great with seasonal fall ingredients for sure

Shunka Shusetsu Echizen is not a sake that’s available in Northern California.

Thanks for the review. I would have given management feedback on the execution of the dishes you disliked and also the pacing/service. $400 a person is like Sushi Yoshizumi extended menu, tax and service included, a few nigiri add on’s of higher end items (or a corkage or a glass of Junmai Daiginjo) with some change to spare!

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Hi @tailbacku,

Yah, I have no idea about the specifics. It didn’t taste like wine though. Thanks.

Hi @beefnoguy,

Thanks for your great insight! :slight_smile: Yah that Welcome Sake is something I never had before. Thinking about it some more, it tasted much more like a Sake that had grape flavor (almost like the Yuzu Sake they served later on, which tasted like Sake with Yuzu in it).

Thanks to you, we definitely have been on the lookout for any of Shichida’s Seasonal Sake! :slight_smile: Every Spring I’m looking forward to their Muroka Nama Genshu, and the Hiyaoroshi was a pleasure to drink this year. :slight_smile:

We didn’t get the Sake Pairing, we relied on recommendations from their somm, and tried it by the glass this time (normally for these type of experiences we just buy the bottles, but we had never heard of some of these before, like the Manzairaku and the Shunka Shusetsu Echizen, so tried it by the glass to be safe).

The Shichida Hiyaoroshi was $110 / bottle. Their baller Sake on the menu was Dassai Beyond for $950.

And yah, considering the stunning meal I had at Sushi Yoshizumi with so many highlights, n/naka pales in comparison.

Very disappointing to hear but to be honest I’ve always felt the food lacked finesse and this recent review doesnt help to change my mind. It’s like the michelin guide gave her two stars because they felt it was right, when I compare to other 2 or even 1 star restusrants I’ve been too, especially in Tokyo n/Naka is definitely not on their level. Good or them and their business and the food is prob good enough and the plating looks nice enough to impress casual diners who just want to eat there for chef’s table fame and now michelin madness but at their current price point, I’d rather go to Hayato and buy myself a nice bottle.

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Thanks for the measured review and the great pictures, as always. I wanted to gift my niece a dinner here, but after your review I will consider another venue.

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Thanks for sharing about your meal with n/naka @JLee. I agree with you and I think I mentioned awhile back that we have some food-obsessed friends who travel to Japan and Europe every year. They’ve been to n/naka 4 times, and mentioned a similar feeling that you mentioned: It’s nice plating, some pleasant dishes, maybe a couple of the dishes each time they go are noteworthy, but as a whole, it doesn’t compare to any of the Michelin starred restaurants abroad (or SF or NY) in terms of execution, great dining experience, food deliciousness, etc.

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