- Tom Armitage
I had a wonderful dinner last night at Cafe Nao, located adjacent to the New Gardena Hotel at 1641 W. Redondo Beach Blvd. in Gardena. The chef there is Naoto ("Nao") Imayoshi, who trained in Japan and France before moving to California. I wouldn't call his food "fusion," although there are clearly some dishes that reflect his Japanese heritage.
My wife and I typically share dishes, which usually means passing plates back and forth between us. At Cafe Nao, the wait staff figured this out from our order (one soup, two appetizers, one entree), and brought out each dish in succession with two plates for my wife and I to divide the dish. No extra charge for this thoughtfulness. We started with a pumpkin soup that was smooth as silk with wonderful flavor. Next we had baked black mussels with thyme and garlic. The mussels were lightly flavored with thyme and covered in buttery, garlicy bread crumbs. Highly addictive. This was followed by spicy shrimps sauteed with sun dried tomatoes, white wine, lemon, garlic, and a touch of chili. They weren't all that spicy, but were delicious. The entree was a braised beef short rib in red wine sauce. The short rib was meltingly tender and full of flavor. The small accompanyments were deep fried balls of mashed potatoes, broccoli, and an intensely flavorful combination of finely diced eggplant, squash, onions, and tomatoes.
Chef Nao is also a skilled pastry chef, aa our trio of desserts--pear charlotte, apple chiboust, and St. Marc--attested. They were all wonderful. Chef Nao's wife, Chieko, is a gracious hostess, overseeing the dining rooms. The back dining room, where we ate, was very comfortable and nicely appointed. Prices for appetizers run between $4.00 and $9.25. Prices for dinner entrees run between $13.50 and $16.50. These are real bargains considering the high quality of the food. I, for one, plan to return soon to try things like the rice and cheese croquette, sauteed eryngii mushrooms, quiche Lorraine, lamb chop with olive sauce, braised beef tongue, and duck confit with housemade sauerkraut.