The Artistry of Chef Nakayama

"I've been following the artistry of Chef Nakayama since her days at Azami Sushi on Melrose," says J. L. After Azami (now closed), Nakayama opened up Inaka, "serving fantastic kaiseki-style menus with modern touches. With Inaka, it was quickly evident that this sushi shokunin was ably diversifying her repertoire and making forays into Japanese-influenced fine dining," says J.L. Despite Inaka's brilliance, the place never really took off—perhaps, suggests J.L., because the dining public wasn't ready for a restaurant with no written bill of fare, and ever-changing tasting menus.

Now there's n/naka in Palms, pretty much the most unlikely place possible for high-end omakase dining, and Chef Nakayama has become even more refined, says J.L. There are three tasting menus, from the $110 chef's option to the $165, 13-course Modern Kaiseki tasting menu; there's also a vegetarian menu.

The Modern Kaiseki tasting menu is utterly fantastic, says J.L. His version started with sakizuke—"a pairing of something common and something unique"—cauliflower tofu, marinated ikura, uni butter, micro greens, and black truffles. What followed were traditional touches, like an outstanding dish of slow-grilled Japanese conch served in its own shell and cooking broth. And then there are modern moves, like fluke sashimi with garlic aioli and yuzu kimchi air. "Yes, yuzu kimchi air. And it works," says J.L. The rest of the tasting menu involved everything from molecular gastronomy crab tempura with an avocado sphere to traditional, superfresh sashimi.

The highlight of J.L.'s experience was the fourth course: Pacific lobster with mousseline, Momotaro tomato from the chef's garden, dashi broth, and fennel. It was superb, "executed with subtlety, yet maximizing the qualities of each component on the palate," says J.L. "Basically, if you're halfway saved up for that epic meal at Urasawa, but can't stand waiting anymore, n/naka is the answer to your prayers."

n/naka [Westside - Inland]
3455 S. Overland Avenue, Los Angeles
310-836-6252

Discuss: n/naka: Modern Culinary Excellence in Palms [long review + photos]