The subject of this week's restaurant review is n/naka, the Palms restaurant dedicated to kaiseki, the formal Japanese multi-course meal. You can read the full review over in the main food section, or see a condensed version (with a couple of extra tidbits), below.
Chef: Chef and owner Niki Nakayama began her cooking career at Takao in Brentwood. Seeking to further her understanding of Japanese cooking and technique, she then spent three years traveling around Japan working in different kitchens, including a Japanese country inn, or ryokan, owned by some relatives. There, she trained specifically in kaiseki. Upon her return to L.A., Nakayama first opened a sushi restaurant in West Hollywood, Azami Sushi Cafe, which was known for its all-female staff. But later at n/naka, which opened on an unremarkable stretch of Overland Avenue in the spring of 2011, she committed herself to delivering the full kaiseki experience.
Food: There are three menus offered at n/naka: nine or 13 courses, plus a nine-course vegetarian option. Each menu follows a set order, beginning with a "pairing of something common with something unique." There are steamed dishes, grilled dishes, modern takes on sashimi, and a couple of dishes that break free of the constraints of tradition in the most arresting ways. Each dish is carefully composed and lovely.
Drink: n/naka has an impressive wine list, as well as a broad range of sakes.
Service: With their soothing demeanor and attention to detail, the servers here are an extension of Nakayama's vision. Each dish is explained in detail as it's delivered, and there's a focus on each individual customer and their needs that's a rare quality, not often seen elsewhere.
Takeaway: 4 stars (excellent). Almost everything Nakayama is doing at n/naka is astonishing, in fact. For such a small operation to create such a perfectly calibrated, complex experience shows a level of dedication that's more than uncommon -- it's extraordinary.
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