n/naka: Which menu to choose?
Good evening, all. I have made a reservation for next week at n/naka. I loved Niki's food at Azami so very much and I am quite excited to experience it again. I was told on the phone that a staff member would call me a couple of days ahead of time to ask which menu options my guest and I will choose. Thus, the question. I do not ever like to leave a restaurant feeling uncomfortably overserved, but I also don't want to miss out on anything essential. Feedback from other experienced diners is most welcomed. Thanks in advance.
Finally had my dinner at n/naka last night. Many thanks to J.L. and ipsedixit for the encouragement to jump in and do the 13 course menu. It was extraordinary in ways that I still can't wrap my mind around this morning. Three hours whispered by comfortably with some of the most affable service staff I've encountered in a long time. And the amount of food was perfect. I did joke with one of the servers that I wished the pasta dish was AYCE. A5 beef may have changed my life a little bit. And that Chef Niki came to our table afterwards and remembered me from the Azami days was super sweet. I think I'm going to have to start a piggy bank for return visits.
I am going tonight for the first time and have opted for the 9 course dinner--with the exception of the upgraded choice of a lobster chawanmushi or a kegani kouramushi on the 13 course meal (it is a sea bass tororo on the 9 instead), I thought the 9 course hit all the "must have" notes for me. However, with a couple of minor exceptions, the additional dishes and choices on the premium tasting certainly looked good. By the way, some of the wine/sake pairings look quite good and interesting...a couple of the pairings unique to the kaiseki menu almost persuaded me to change my mind!
re: New Trial
The nine course dinner ($110) was excellent with good and efficient service. The courses were as follows:
1. Saki Zuke: A poached oyster wrapped in fried Maui onions, topped with Santa Barbara uni served in a shot glass with a base of russet potato dashi. A terrific start to the meal and my second favorite bite of the night.
2. Zensai: Grilled Santa Barbara shrimp with a purple yam puree and a seared Washington scallop served on top of a slice of purple potato and with a carrot smear and a fried root chip.
3, Modern Zakuri: Aji sashimi sprinkled with pink peppercorns.
4. Otsukuri: Traditional sashimi of hamachi, Kumamoto oyster, hirame, kanpachi, toro of big eye tuna. Two slices of everything but the oyster, served with fresh wasabi and homemade soy.
5. Mushimono: Steamed sea bas with Japanese mountain potato, shitake, mizuba leaf and a dashi broth. My least favorite course as it tasted more of sweetness than anything else to me.
6. Shiizakana: Spaghettini with black abalone, summer truffles and pickled cod roe--the standout dish of the night. If n/naka offered only one dish, you would want it to be this one.
7. Niku: Slices of Angus beef cooked over a Japanese Magnolia leaf atop coals with a miso and leek sauce.
8. Sushi: One piece each of tai, o-toro of big eye tuna, seared toro, hirame, amaebi and one other I did not catch (well, actually, I did not "catch" any of the fish).
9. Mizumono: Flourless white chocolate green tea cake with matcha powder, a small scoop of ice cream and a black sesame creme brulee, all served with a mug of Hojicha.
I did do the wine pairings ($55), which I found to be thoughtful in terms of complementing the food, but, while the sparkling wine and two sakes were full pours, the rest of the wines (as is to be expected) were much smaller. In fact, a tad too small as, even with judicious sipping, the glasses did not always last through their respective courses. A smidge more in the glass would have helped. I would also have preferred if the wines were poured table side (only the first sake was) as I like to see the bottles, though the servers did give decent descriptions of each pouring.
Service, as noted above, was quite good, with serving utensils (other than the chopsticks) changed out with each course so you always had the appropriate implements, water refilled without asking, plates cleared promptly but not too early, and fresh glasses for each new wine. Dinner lasted just under two hours but did not feel either rushed or draggy at all.
Definitely a worthwhile experience and the 9 courses were certainly an ample amount of food (though I would not have said no if they offered the option of a second helping of the spaghettini!) but, if you have the ability and the interest, some of the additional dishes on the 13 course menu did look quite good.
I got the 9 course while my friends got the full modern kaiseki since I had another commitment later that evening and had to leave earlier.
Having seen them side by side, there was one dish I remember them having that I wish I had. But as long as you get the abalone and truffle pasta, the lesser menu won't be too far behind. That dish IMO is the one *essential* dish. Even better if you can pair it with a nice white burgundy. They have a great wine list.
Thanks to you and foodiemahoodie for bringing up the time issue. My reso is for 8:45. Kind of a late start for a lenghtly tasting menu, by my own Angelino standards. Although this thread has not moved me towards making a definite choice quite yet, it certainly has made me more excited about my meal.
Niki-san's food has evolved SO much from her days at Azami (and in all the best ways).
I've been told my stomach is the gateway to another dimension, so keep that in mind when I recommend for you to order the Modern Kaiseki 13-course meal.
Not because it's more satisfying in a mass consumption sort of way, but more because there's more dishes to sample! Mrs. J.L. cannot eat as much as I do, yet she still orders the 13-course menu and goes "ooh" and "ahh" as each one shows up. Of course, when all's said and done, you yourself must be comfortable with whatever decision you make.
That being said, Japanese kaiseki portions tend to be lesser in volume than many other prix fixe menus around town.
So, one vote for going Gangnam style.
n/naka is not going to give you a 2nd rate experience with a 9 course tasting menu. You'll simply be a little more overwhelmed (in a good way) with the longer menu.
When they call - ask what you'd missing.
I went with the 9 course the first time. So far, I always go with the longer one. (though I might change my mind the next time I go - which is in a couple weeks - I have something to do later that evening and can't be late.)