Had we stayed that weekend, I shudder to think what could have happened to us.
Luckily, I am now back in the luxury of home and doing something I haven't done in a long time; food blogging.
I commented before the trip that I had lost interest in putting my thoughts down about the food we have been eating and hoping that a trip to the States will somehow reignite the joy of writing and posting pictures of all the dishes we have been digging into. At the start of our journey, it didn't look like it was going anywhere.
In Melbourne, the dining scene is littered with independently owned restaurants, all I saw in LA was chain restaurants, whether it was fast food, mid-range or expensive ones that were branded by celebrity chefs. It almost felt like food were being cooked with a set formula and in a production line, best of all, it seemed like a way of life. When you ask where you can get good this or good that, they reply with a name of a chain restaurant.
At that point, I wondered if that was the reason why the Michelin Guide had drop LA off the list back in 2009.
However me being me, I wasn't going to dine in chain restaurants (well, not for the whole trip) and had done my extensive research. Roping the Wife's cousin, a fellow foodie residing in LA, we had the luxury to look out for a restaurant that was beyond walking distance from the hotel.
n/naka caught my eye when I first read about it in Los Angeles Times. It ticked all the boxes; located in an inconspicuous building, not owned by a celebrity chef with chains of restaurants under his/her name, focused on fresh produce (using vegetables and herbs from her back garden and best of all, regardless of whether it was Yelp, Zagat or Urbanspoon, there was nothing but praise in the reviews.
After spending 2 days eating nothing but fast food up in Disneyland, a Japanese meal was exactly what we needed.
As far as hidden places go, this is one of them. The only clue that you have gotten the right place is the number on the wall.
In n/naka, you only have 3 choices; a 9 course, 13 course or 10 course vegetarian kaiseki. As much as I would have liked to go all the way with 13 courses, this was just the beginning of our 2 week long adventure and so the 9 course tasting menu it was.
Every dish that we were served that night had a theme, so to speak and our first dish was described to us as "a pairing of something common and something unique". The picture tells me that it was some form of egg custard and the Wife claims there was sea urchin although I remembered it was some form of shell fish. The idea is that egg custard was the something common and the ingredient we can't agree on was the something unique. I could tell from the few delicate bites, it was going to be a good night.
The next dish was a "main seasonal ingredient presented as an appetiser". This gave us quite a good impression and I can safely remember this as an oil poached halibut served with mushrooms 3 ways, pickled, stir fried and tempura style. The fish was cooked to perfection, almost melt in your mouth.
Next up, a modern interpretation of sashimi. Sweet diver scallops topped off with Italian summer truffles, yuzu zest and a ponzu dressing. The truffle slices are rather mild and more likely than not from a bottle (given it was closer to autumn) but the scallops were ridiculously good, on its own or with the refreshing dressing.
The classic sashimi dish was next. You can see the oyster and the tuna and I believe the one in the middle was hamachi and the far right, was a species of halibut. The fish is as fresh as I have eaten but best of all, it was paired with freshly grated wasabi. It was mild, almost similar to fresh horseradish and honestly, if I had a choice, I would never eat the green paste version again.
The deep fried dish was next. We were told this was butterfish but reading from an older online menu suggests that this was pompano. Well, take your pick on what the fish was. Described as deep fried fillets topped with a sweet and sour sauce, we were told to let the dish cook over charcoal, intensifying the sauce and sweetening the crunchy bones. The fillets remains crispy as it sits on top of the bones. Once the waitress tells you it is ready, wrap the fish with lettuce, dip in the sauce and away you go.
The grilled dish was next. Wagyu marinated with red miso sitting on a big magnolia leaf and is grilled over a charcoal flame. At your pace, take a bite when you think it is ready to your liking. With the sweetness in the miso, this was certainly a little different from my usual steak pan fried with salt and pepper.
If you think I wasn't impressed enough at this stage of the dinner (well I was), this is the bit where I am going to tell you I was pretty damn impressed with this "not bound by tradition" dish. A signature dish of n/naka, this was your usual spaghetti taken to a level of its own with truffles, abalone, cod liver roe and god know what else. The abalone provides the texture, and there was just something about the sauce that got us all wishing that we could order another serve! The Wife wished she could order one to go and I imagined if I could order this to go, every time I didn't want to cook dinner.
Our 8th course comprised of 6 pieces of sushi and the epic #fail moment happened when I realised I forgot to take a picture of the most creamiest sea urchin sushi I ever had. Back to the sushi, I finally experienced how sushi was meant to be made and eaten. Each piece has been seasoned accordingly with soy and wasabi (if deemed required by the chef) and all you have to do is pop it into your mouth. As with the sashimi, the fish is as fresh as I ever tasted. Apart from the sea urchin, I was happy to see ama ebi ("sweet prawn"), one of my favorite seafood items on sushi.
Wash it all down with miso soup which were flavoured further with matsutake mushrooms.
Dessert was a creme brulee, a single grape and a nata de coco with passion fruit and vanilla ice cream. It sounded like a weird combination but we all loved it (probably even more if they had given a little more grapes).
Dinner was made even more special when the waitress told us that the chef will come out in a little while to say hi. If you are on my Facebook, you would see she even obliged to have a photo taken with us.
I don't know if it has been too far long since we had a lock stock and barrel meal of Japanese but in one sitting, I had my share of sashimi, sushi, grill, fried and loads more which was so satisfying.
Ms Niki Nakayama, your place is a gem and we are so glad to have made n/naka, a venue for one of our dinners.
Address and contact details:
Verdict: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars. Food was top notch and we had no complaints about service (some reviews complained about patchy service). I might add that I was a little disappointed by placing us at a table near the entrance but luckily in the 2.5 hours we were there, the door opened only twice.
Hopefully with this finally written up, I can write up on a few more places soon!