Sometimes I take notes on my phone while dining out, in order to remember later how something tasted or how it made me feel. From my last meal at n/naka, I have only one entry. It reads, “Sushi course: This is what fairies eat. On their birthday.” In addition to feeling like Tinkerbell at her most celebratory, I had multiple other giddy moments during the course of the meal, as well as the persistent thought: This is the best restaurant in Los Angeles. That wasn't always true of n/naka — chef Niki Nakayama's kaiseki restaurant in Palms was wonderful from the moment it opened, but it's taken her a few years to grow into her full potential, and if I were to guess I'd say the difference now is that she trusts her instincts more fully. Meals made by Nakayama and team are lyrical musings on season, tradition, newness and the meeting of California and Japan, both culturally and in terms of ingredients. Seafood and seasonality are prized above all else, and occasionally a dish arrives — a spiny sea urchin, for instance, filled with its own creamy roe, plus snow crab and dashi gelee — that redefines your feelings about the limits of textural pleasure. If you opt for a sake pairing, you'll find yourself delighted by some of the most intelligent, passionate beverage professionals around, who mix no snobbery with their enthusiasm. That's the beauty of this restaurant — it is practically perfect while exuding humbleness and hospitality at every turn.
Credit: Anne Fishbein