Summer Modern Kaiseki at n/naka: A Pictorial Essay

At its heart and soul, n/naka has always been guided by the talented Chef Niki Nakayama. Back in 2012, when it was considered a local gem, this unassuming-looking restaurant in Palms has since garnered much international acclaim and well-deserved success. Producer David Gelb’s Netflix “Chef’s Table” series (featuring Chef Niki in Season One), has propelled n/naka to new stratospheric heights of popularity. But despite all the accolades, Niki-san continues to look for new ways to intimately share her culinary vision to each of her guests during each individual visit.

Dining at this level is often a study in contrasts, and very subtle ones at that. This is where Chef Niki truly demonstrates her prowess. The n/naka Modern Kaiseki is a $185 per person (food only) adventure unlike any other in Los Angeles - Seasonal, contemplative, and above all, flat-out delicious.

Saki zuki course (pairing something common with something unique): Sazae (sea conch), roasted konbu soup, konbu dashi foam, potato puree, caviar… The muscular flesh of the conch and the konbu foam contrasts the dense versus the ethereal. The caviar, borne of water, meets the earthy potato in one spoon.

Zensai course (seasonal ingredients presented as appetizer): (1) Goma dofu (sesame tofu) with zuwaigani (snow crab), (2) Whitefish ceviche with potato puff & cherry tomato, (3) Nasu (eggplant) miso with shishito & sesame seed, (4) Sautéed local rock cod with miso & lemon sauce, and (5) Junsai (water shield) served with tsukemono (pickled) cucumber… Wow… I would never have imagined combining eggplant with shishito and sesame. That was one splendid bite.

Modern Zukuri course (modern interpretation of sashimi): Hotategai (scallops) from Hokkaido, with fresh chive sauce, yuzu sauce, radish, young shiso & tomato… This was really essentially two dishes in one, as the scallops paired so radically differently with the chive sauce as with the yuzu sauce. Smart.

Owan mono course (“still water”): Campari tomato broth with ise ebi shinjo (spiny lobster cake)… This was an excellent clear broth. One often thinks of tomato broth as an opaque affair, but the delicate, understated tomato flavor here was a perfect match to the spiny lobster cake.

Otsukiri course (traditional sashimi): Honmaguro akami and o-toro (bluefin tuna lean and fatty cuts), ika (squid), tai (red seabream) and kinmedai (golden eye snapper)… Gorgeously cut and plated, this was sashimi of the highest caliber. The temperature of the sashimi was just a tad too cold upon reaching the table, but this is a rare minor misstep.

Yakimono course (flame-grilled food): Unagi (freshwater eel), shiitake mushroom, Hudson Valley foie gras with balsamic reduction, topped with foie gras au jus and strawberry… Just extraordinary. The slight tartness of the strawberry just made this combination so very special.

Mushimono course (steamed/fried food): Poached local hirame (flatfish; in this case local halibut) with sazae (sea conch) soup, beet puree, fried edible rice paper, & stewed cabbage… So many components, and yet so beautiful in its complexity.

Shiizakana (not bound by tradition; the Chef’s choice dish): Spaghettini with abalone, mentaiko (pickled cod roe), Burgundy summer truffles, topped with baby daikon radish… Chef Niki’s signature pasta is one of the very BEST pasta dishes on planet Earth - It’s THAT wonderful.

Niku course (meat; in this case Japanese beef): Grade A5 wagyu from Miyazaki, quick-seared with sea salt rub, kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) puree, wasabi sauce, beet chip, roasted cauliflower and Brussel sprout… An inventive take on the classic meat & starch dish, the n/naka way…

Sunomono course (vinegared preparation): Kumamoto oyster with vinegar ponzu, ikura (salmon roe), nasturtium, served with a shot of Yamamoto yuzu omoi junmai sake… The brine within the shucked oyster was accentuated with the vinegar, and the yuzu sake ‘chased’ this delectable slurp to great effect.

Sake: Born “Gold” junmai daiginjo… What dreams are made of…

Shokuji (rice-based) / Sushi courses: Let’s not forget that Chef Niki’s roots are in sushi. The shari (sushi rice) on this evening’s meal was exemplary. The nigiri were served in pairs. Gari was presented:

(1) Engawa (halibut fin) with yuzu kosho (grated yuzu peel with green chili pepper salt)… (2) Akamutsu (rosy seabass)…

(3) Chu-toro (medium fatty tuna)… (4) Sawara (Spanish mackerel)…

(5) Ama ebi (sweet prawn)… (6) Uni (sea urchin roe)…

Miso soup with fried tofu & onion… Deceivingly simple, but the fried tofu with onion really stood out. Almost like a Japanese version of the French classic soup à l’oignon.

Kani temaki (blue crab handroll)… Delicious crunch on that grilled nori (seaweed)!

Cantaloupe sorbet with matcha… The cantaloupe was decadently fresh, and it paired quite harmoniously with the slight bitterness of the frothy matcha.

Hojicha (roasted green tea)… Signaling dessert!!!

Pistachio cannoli, caramel green tea sauce, pistachio ice cream, plum, with plum sauce… Ingredients “crossing over” back on itself, the pistachio-on-pistachio and plum-on-plum action almost took a backseat to my discovering that caramel and green tea made for an extremely formidable duo.

Bonus dessert from the kitchen (one of our party was celebrating a very Happy Birthday): Crème caramel with pomelo, pink grapefruit and lavender biscotti… Superb (even without the candle!)!!!

Mignardise: Chocolate truffle with sea salt and caramel… A fantastic finish to another masterpiece meal.

Ever humble, Chef Niki came out to greet her guests graciously at the end of the seating. She says she is sourcing lots of her vegetables from her own Farmscape garden these days. Drawing inspiration from local sources is a basic tenet of kaiseki ryori, so Chef Niki is currently exploring the idea of an “All-Californian” menu (which may be debuting later this year). Exciting changes are afoot!

This was my eighth visit to n/naka. I am of the firm belief that a fine restaurant, even one at the pinnacle of its success, must evolve in order to continue meaningful engagement of its diners. This begs the question: Can a restaurant perform better and better on each successive visit? Whenever I’ve dined at n/naka, the answer continues to be a resounding ‘YES!’


3455 S. Overland Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90034



Thanks for reporting back. I still regard my meal there as my best ever. [quote=“J_L, post:1, topic:3809”]
Chef Niki is currently exploring the idea of an “All-Californian” menu (which may be debuting later this year).

She mentioned this at our visit last October, as well. Although, at that time, the goal was Spring 2016 :slight_smile: Must be quite the sourcing endeavor.

Meal looks incredible. This restaurant is at top of my list of places to visit.

I have to ask about those nigiri pieces though, the cut looks a bit sloppy no?

thanks for letting me live vicariously through your pics.


It is indeed.

She talked about this on recent podcast of KRCW’s Good Food, which you can listen to here.

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Ah yes, the nigiri. Niki-san, standing at 5’1", towers above her sushi, but not above the vast majority of her guests. Accordingly, her hands press the shari into pieces which are somewhat smaller than most sushi customers are used to. BUT she remains generous with her neta portions, which is why the proportion/“cut” of each piece of nigiri may appear a bit unorthodox (i.e. “top-heavy” in appearance). I think if Niki-san ever decided to aim for a more classic shari-to-rice ratio using her own hands to make the nigiri, then maybe some guests would mistake her nigiri for the much cuter style of sushi called temari sushi (“ball” sushi). :slight_smile:

In any case, I think the knifework on the sashimi will aptly prove her deftness with the blade more than on the nigiri.


Lots of courses, seems like a great value for the $. Still have not been there :sob:. Dang difficult to get reservations these days. @J_L how far in advance did you have to reserve?

going this Friday
you got me pumped

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Pro-tip for scoring a seating at n/naka: I was flexible in my dates, so I asked the reservationist for any cancellation, anytime. They were able to accommodate me about 3 weeks ahead of the actual date.


Hi @J_L,

Thanks for the tip and great report. Just going on their reservation system they’re so booked it’s ridiculous. :frowning: I’ll go one day.

This review made me happy. It is still the best meal I’ve had in LA, and rivals anything I had in Tokyo. Probably a step behind Ryugin, but not a big step. Still, very happy to see she is still doing great work.


So those aren’t jagged cuts on the fish itself in the case of the rosy seabass and the sawara, just the awkward drape of very large pieces of fish over not so much rice? In that case isn’t the balance thrown off?

(I ask from the point of view of one who is still trying to figure these things out.)

I will re-quote myself: [quote=“J_L, post:6, topic:3809”]
her hands press the shari into pieces which are somewhat smaller than most sushi customers are used to. BUT she remains generous with her neta portions, which is why the proportion/“cut” of each piece of nigiri may appear a bit unorthodox (i.e. “top-heavy” in appearance).

Looking at my pictures of the nigiri, those pieces of shari are REALLY small. True, the cuts of neta do drape awkwardly, but hell, I’ll eat 'em however ugly they might be. Can’t blame the chef for being petite!

Okay. I do find it a little odd given how much attention clearly goes towards presentation at n/naka. I would have thought at a place seemingly this precise both the awkward look and the top heavy ratio would be no-go’s.

Looking through my pictures from previous visits the cut and drape of your nigiri looks totally different. Maybe another chef is making the nigiri now?

Sushi is but one minor portion of the modern kaiseki experience. If the n/naka team errs or missteps on the generous side portion-wise, I’m not the guy that’s gonna call them on it. Plus, both the rice and neta were unerringly outstanding from a quality standpoint.

Seriously, the rest of the meal was exemplary. And the $185pp is actually less than what I pay at most other high-end sushi-yas.

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As I was reading the careful thought J_L put into writing about his/her n/naka experience I had a feeling there would be critiques about knife cuts and such. This is important, especially for those of us who are learning. But on this one I want to appreciate an exquisite review - by one of our own - on a delightful meal by a “girl” who defies all notions of what an itamae should be. You did a seriously detailed review J_L, but beautiful and with a side of the poetic. You could have made it just for those in-the-know. But you took the time to make it accessible to all. Thank you.


wow that doesn’t even look like it came from the same restaurant