I was at dinner at N/Naka the other day, and my acquaintance and I got to talking about how there’s a stigma among our “non-foodie” friends on spending hefty bucks on food. Propose a AYCE KBBQ joint for $9.99 and everyone with the time will be down. Suggest a five-course tasting menu for a reasonable $50 and people who aren’t self-proclamined foodists will gasp in horror.
It’s an understandable phenomenon. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a mediocre meal for outrageous prices (Jean-Georges in Shanghai, Yamashiro, Momofuku fried chicken dinner, I’m looking at you guys). But pick the right place, and I guarantee you, that money will be worth your time. And personally, I’d rather spend good money on amazing food than tickets to a Broadway show. Or these days — a Vegas trip plus a carload of booze.
These dinners are rare occasions and though I’ve personally never paid more than $80 for a meal, (I wish I could afford the $150-$250 range) the stand-outs (Le Bernardin, Eleven Madison, Mr. & Mrs. Bund) have all been well worth it.
That’s what a tasting menu is all about. It’s a show, divided up into various acts. On Sunday, I had the opportunity to sample Niki Nakayama’s $55 five course kaiseki for the restaurant’s benefit dinner. 100% of proceeds from the series went to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
We started off with Sakizuke, a pairing of something common and something unique. I’m assuming that something common was the bigeye tuna and the unique element was the pool of avocado dashi nestled on the bottom. Additions included jalapeño, cilantro, tempura soy paper and a drop of citrus ponzu sauce on top of the tuna tartar.
Next, Nakayama followed with a beautifully plated slab of san ten mori, pan-seared beef teres major, mixed baby greens, miso pepper dressing plus a succulent Fanny Bay oyster with sesame aioli and a hamachi carpaccio in the middle with sweet sesame ponzu. I wasn’t too hot about the beef (was it supposed to be served cold?) but of the three, my favorite was the oyster.
The hearty mushimino (steamed dish) and agemono (fried dish) was a steamed lobster chawanmushi and a vegetable kaki-age tempura, respectively. The chawanmushi, essentially steamed egg, included lobster bits and black prince tomatoes. The kaki-age was impressively constructed in one piece with gobo, maitake, carrots and onions.
Fourth came a perfectly al dente pasta dish cooked in abalone broth with mentaiko and Italian summer truffles.
My absolutely personal favorite (but that’s just because I’m partial to sashimi) was the chirashi-zushi. Standouts included the buttery uni (sea urchin) and creamy East Coast scallops.
We finished it all off with a sesame panna cotta with okinawan black sugar syrup. The bowl was painted with black sesame paste and it was all topped off with a sesame tuille.
Address: 3455 Overland Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90034
Phone: (310) 836-6252