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Aug 8, 2014 07:03 PM

WSJ on Niki Nakayama of n/naka



Chef Niki Nakayama crafts 13-course tasting menus that feature exquisite, meticulously plated food, such as blue crab–stuffed zucchini blossoms accompanied by a quenelle of curry salt–dusted carrot sorbet, a dollop of mirin-soy–rice vinegar jelly on the side and a purple nasturtium perched on top. Yet Nakayama, 40, makes a conscious choice to remain behind a partition, simply because she's had trouble with customers noticing the obvious—that she's a woman.


"People should just come in, focus on the food, and then, after they've had their experience and decided what they think, I can go out and say hi," Nakayama says.

Read it all here:

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  1. Wonderful. Thanks for the link.

      1. Half assed "pretty" food elevated only by the fact that she's a Japanese woman "cheffing" (loose term) in West Los Angeles.

        When did the WALL STREET JOURNAL become significant when pertaining to culinary coverage? Never. Might as well be T+L telling Angelenos where to eat. O, btw, the piece is written by a female reporter, from Manhattan. Feel free to insert *jerking off motion in air*

        16 Replies
        1. re: TonyC

          Soooooo . . . you've never been to n/naka then.

          'Cause that post right there is some serious bullshit.

          Tell me the joke just went over my head. It's the only thing that makes any sense.

          1. re: cacio e pepe

            Been there, before and after the silly slash. Still rather shoot the shit w/ Mako or Yasu-san.

            Drop the truffle and the uni there's hardly anything left. The readily available tables tell the same tale.

            The chefs' quotes in the WSJ piece are fabulous though; love me some Koslow. I really have better things to do with $200, say... 30 Roma sandwiches.

            1. re: TonyC

              But we love truffles showered over everything and lobes upon lobes of ochre uni.

              Btw. Are there seriously many tables that are wide open every night ????

              For some reason, I would rather hit up and try Yamakase for $200 plus omakase/tasting menu. (probably because it has a sushi counter. My predilection runs toward a counter rather than a mere Tqble. But that's just me).

              And for now Shunji's has kept me quite satiated and satisfied.

              1. re: kevin

                I walked by n/naka tuesday night on my way to The Dough Room that is on the next block up. n/naka's parking lot was full by 8:30-9PM.

                1. re: kevin

                  I had a great meal at n-naka (slash omitted to please TonyC) I did accept a shaved black summer truffle on one dish but otherwise there was no truffle shower. It was a great meal.

                  Nice piece. And the reporter's mentioning of the wonderful fish and broth and maitake dish is spot-on. That dish is great.

                  1. re: Ciao Bob

                    You would think Tony would be into the Punktuation?

                2. re: TonyC

                  Which joints are run by mako ????? Is that the sushi bar in weller court. ????

                  And I have no clue where yasu is ????????

                  Btw. Does anyone happen to remember Seikitei in Monterey Park or Kappo Ishito also in Weller Court ?????

                  1. re: TonyC

                    Tony C - I have a hard time believing you actually tasted that food and were not impressed.

                    1. re: TonyC

                      I always like reading your take, TonyC. But . . .

                      1. There is a proverbial shit-ton of other stuff going on aside from truffles (personally over them) and uni. Her dobin mushi with a squeeze of sudachi is . . . perfect. Like hauntingly perfect. Like, out of nowhere a year later you need it now all of the sudden perfect. That's one example. Her beef preparation rocks. Hokkaido hairy crab baked in shell with a runny egg. Fuck yes and I'll have another please.

                      2. Tables weren't all that readily available last time I went. Things change, but it was a tough res a few months ago.

                      3. You go ahead and shoot the shit and ballwash whatever chef/itamae you want. Ima be eating. I bring a friend for conversation.

                      4. I got nothing to ctiticize regarding your judgment of value. $200 is a lot of cash. You have a point there. Now, you put those 30 sandwiches on a table next to Nakayama's 13 dishes and I know what I'm picking. The stuff I couldn't make at home after shopping at decent Italian import store. Still, value is a fair point here.

                      4. Koslow/Sqirl is fucking rad. Agreed. I'll add that Voltaggio seems like a wet blanket but can seriously cook.

                      1. re: cacio e pepe

                        <<it was a tough res a few months ago>>

                        And after this article we all may have to call ispedixit to get in....

                        1. re: Ciao Bob

                          My apologies.

                          I see that I should not have posted this article.

                          I will go away now, and stand in the corner.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            Not your fault at all. Thanks for posting. I enjoyed it. It's a great restaurant, a great chef and I'm glad she's getting the attention she deserves. It means this restaurant will be around for a while for us all to enjoy. And let's face, there's always a weenie or two on C.H. There are no weenie filters.

                            1. re: foodiemahoodie

                              TonyC's a good guy. He just likes to express his opinions "sans truffles or uni" every once in a while. :-)

                  2. re: TonyC

                    That's a pleasant visual. Thanks for that..... And now a serious newspaper can't report on a great restaurant....only the NYTimes can?? Talk about seriously limiting oneself by refusing to look outside ones comfort zone.... Lighten up dude. It's just an article.

                  3. i personally tend to respect the tradition that goes with the culture of any given cuisine as being what it is. so if i walked into a sushi place that i otherwise knew nothing about and saw a female head chef or just a female behind the bar i would prefer to walk out and try another place assuming a relatively low ceiling for the potential of the place. that doesn't mean that i don't think that japanese culture is in many ways very misogynist/chauvinistic, but then most asian cultures tend to be. i also understand that their nationalism leads to japan as a nation being dismissive of external attempts to emulate their traditions.

                    having said that, that doesn't necessarily mean that the critique of nakayama's efforts by japanese chefs weren't at some level valid even though they may have exhibited chauvinism in how they described it as "cute" given how nakayama admits that's she's breaking some of the traditional rules in trying to americanize kaiseki.

                    while it's outside the bounds of CH, it would IMO be rather silly not to acknowledge the issue of gender equality in this particular story in how the story was written. for me, this is a gender equality/lifestyle story masquerading as a food story. had these chefs been depicted as simply saying in their own (albeit chauvinistic) vernacular: "PF Changs for kaiseki", there would be little to no story here, and whatever endorsements nakayama received from american chefs would have little to no relevance. (it *might* be good, whatever that means, but it would not be authentic.)

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: barryc

                      Yeah, that's a pretty sad way of rationalizing sexism and racism.

                      About as silly as assuming a sushi chef makes good sushi just because he is a Japanese male. The sushi at n/naka is better than many sushi restaurants out there with male itames and you know it.

                    2. I had a wonderful meal there not too long ago . With the wine pairing, it comes to $250 per BEFORE tax and tip. Personal decision if you feel it's "worth it."

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: Baron

                        Frankly, 99% of Chowhounders have never been to Japan and eaten Japanese Kaiseki nor sushi. This is why there are folks who do not think much of N/Naka. Same reason why Sushi Q gets mixed reviews. Sushi Q is exactly like what the high end Sushi restaurants are like in Tokyo. Rest of the high end Sushi places in LA are "California Sushi" IMO. All fusion and no tradition!

                        1. re: KTLA

                          I haven't been to Japan or most high end sushi places and yet my husband and I went last year for my birthday and I *get* it...... I think she's brilliantly talented an Cher food was incredible, literally every bite of a 13 course meal.

                          1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                            I do agree that N/Naka's Kaiseki is a slightly modern interpretation, but the style and flavors remain true. Of course using great ingredients help as we'll.

                          2. re: KTLA

                            FWIW, I've never been to n/naka, so I can't comment on that.

                            However, I've never been to China, never been to Taiwan, never been to Mexican (outside of Baja), never been to Ethiopia, never been to Russia, never to be Israel, never been to India....

                            Does that mean I'm not allowed to render an opinion about what I personally think is tasty in *LA*, regardless of whether it's "traditional" or "authentic"?

                            Yeah, I didn't think that's what you were trying to say since that'd be... silly.

                            I certainly value the input of people who are more knowledgable about food, but, ultimately, my own taste buds decide what I like. YMMV. ::shrug::

                            1. re: KTLA

                              >> Frankly, 99% of Chowhounders have never been to Japan and eaten Japanese Kaiseki nor sushi...<<

                              1% here, reporting in (by the way, I think there may be more like >5% of us on the LA Board): I go to Japan once or twice a year on business, and at least once a year I make a trip there on my own dime just to eat.

                              Q Sushi, while pretty good, is nowhere near the high end sushi-yas in Japan. Mori is much more the style I would expect in Tokyo.

                              But we agree that (1) Chef Niki's food is great, (2) SinBaLa has yunmmy sausages, and (3) Channel 5 is pretty good. :-)

                              1. re: J.L.

                                i think it's a lot more than 1% tho

                                maybe i'm wrong.

                                spent lots of time there...i'm more into nigiri and sashimi than the kaiseki personally but had lots.

                                Chef Niki is bringing her vision and we're lucky to have her creativity in LA.

                                as far as kaiseki, for me, it's not just the food, but the experience on sitting on mats on the floor, the arm rests, the polite and special service and unveiling of each course, the kimonos, the tea part...i'm not aware of any spot in LA that really does that. Is there one?

                                1. re: jessejames

                                  Brings back wonderful memories of Ryokan Tawaraya in Kyoto. Although, I have only been there twice, each visit was unforgettable.
                                  Thanks jessejames.

                                  1. re: maudies5

                                    Honeymooned there! And other spots in japan.