Reservations were already relatively hard to get at n/naka before Chef’s Table, Season One, but after the Niki Nakayama episode aired tables became almost impossible to secure.
Prior to Chef’s Table, reservation calls went directly to the chef’s cell phone, but they were inundated with reservation calls after the episode. They have since gone to an online reservation, which has streamlined things and made things easier I believe. The system isn’t as transparent as Alinea’s reservation system, but is very functional and easy to use. I had read recently that n/naka was the 12th hardest restaurant reservation to secure after the Chef’s Table episode.
The restaurant is very unassuming from the outside. There is no sign indicating that you are in the right place. The only indication is the simple Japanese landscaping surrounding the exterior of the building. The building used to be a day spa.
Upon entering, you enter a simple, but elegant space which is sparsely furnished and very “Japanese”. There is a small bar located to the right where guests can wait to be seated. The restaurant is very small, but there are two small dining rooms.
There is no menu at n/naka. A modern kaiseki menu is served. There are meat and vegetarian options. The restaurant will contact you for any special requests, allergies or modifications that need to be made to dishes.
The place setting was elegant, minimalist Japanese with a pair of chopsticks on holder and folded napkin, which was on a black lacquered tray.
The first course was Conch with yuzu foam, caviar and lemon crème fraiche. The dish was light and airy. I’m not sure what type of wizardry went into this dish, but it tasted like bacon.
The next dish came on a large tray along with two other dishes and consisted egg tofu with snow crab; ceviche; miso eggplant with shishito peppers; Australian shrimp and pickles. The tofu was silky smooth, while the snow crab was meaty and briny. The subtle flavor of the eggplant was given a boost by the bolder flavor of miso. The shishito peppers added a slight touch of heat. The Australian shrimp was sweet and meaty. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of this dish.
The scallops were amazingly tender and sweet. They were also slight chewy, but paired well with the acidity of the tomatoes, bitterness from the herbs, and zap of flavor from the wasabi.
The next dish was a red miso soup with a lobster ball. The soup had a great depth of flavor, while the lobster was just perfectly cooked.
The next course was the sashimi course. It consisted of Ahi, Sculpin, Tako (octopus), Toro, and Kanpachi. The ahi was firm and meaty, yet delicate at the same time. The sculpin was tender and the flavor is very mild. The tako was surprisingly very tender, and had a much milder flavor than any octopus that I have had before. The toro was buttery and full of fine fish fat. Very tender and wonderful sashimi. The kanpachi was tender and delicate and flavor. This was a great variety of textures and tastes in such a small course.
The next dish was Foie Gras, Eel and Strawberry in balsamic. The foie gras was cooked to a nice medium rare. The acid from the strawberry cut through the fattiness of the foie. The eel added a meatiness to the dish, and also imparted some sweetness along with the balsamic.
The next dish was Steamed Black Cod and Mussels in a red pepper soup. The black cod was barely cooked through, but was rich and fatty. The mussels were plump and tender. The soup provided additional brininess along with sweetness.
The next course is one of their signature dishes. Abalone with Cod Roe Pasta. The pasta was a nice al dente. The abalone was sweet and surprisingly tender. The sauce was both cheesy and salty. This dish was perfect. The only flaw was the portion size was much too small.
Next up was Miyazaki A5 wagyu beef, with wasabi cream, pumpkin puree, cauliflower, squash, Brussels sprouts, beet chip, Okinawan sea salt, and romaine puree. The wagyu was super tender and fatty. The fat begins to melt in your mouth immediately, while the beef is somewhat dense considering the fat content. For the past 10 years or so, Miyazaki wagyu has won numerous awards, and is considered better than Kobe and Matsuzaka beef. The wasabi cream wasn’t too spice, while the salt gave the beef extra flavor, as if it needed it. The pumpkin was sweet, while the surprise accompaniment was the romaine puree which was sweet and slightly sulfuric.
The intermezzo was next, which was highly unusual. Normally, an intermezzo will be some type of sorbet. The Kumamoto oyster was very tender and briny. It was paired with a cup of Yu sake, which was pretty potent but paired perfectly with the oyster.
For the people not eating raw seafood in our party, the intermezzo was a fig and cucumber salad with yuzu dressing.
Next was the sushi course. The Halibut was soft and chewy. Although the fish is very delicate, it does have a slightly earthy note to it. The Black Cod was delicate, tender and oily. It’s called Butter Fish for a reason.
Ika (squid) was meaty, firm and “squeaky”. The ika was tenderized through the thin knife cuts. It had a slightly anise flavor. The Chu Toro was soft and buttery as you would expect.
The Amiebi (sweet shrimp) was sweet and tender. The Uni was plentiful. It was sweet and briny. My only complaint with the sushi is that it either contained to much sauce, or wasn’t formed well enough as a couple of pieces just fell apart.
The Miso Soup had a strong miso punch. Yuba (tofu skin) was lurking under the surface, and was nice and chewy.
The non-raw seafood course consisted of soft shell crab.
A second intermezzo of watermelon sorbet was very light and refreshing. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of this dish.
Dessert was then brought out, which consisted of a Pistachio Cannoli, Pistachio Ice Cream, Matcha Caramel Sauce, and a Plum Sauce. The pistachio ice cream was the best version I have ever had. It tasted like real pistachios, not like the fake, overly sweet stuff you get at the store, or even at most ice cream or gelato places. The cannoli was crisp and crunchy. The matcha caramel sauce sounds like a weird combination, but it worked very together. The sweetness of the caramel counterbalanced the bitterness and astringency of the matcha. The plum sauce added an acidic brightness.
A round of truffles was then brought out. It was a nice sweet, and slightly bitter way to finish off a fantastic meal.
Chef Nakayama came out and spoke with guests at each table. She is very nice and humble. She is also scheduled to appear at the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival in mid-October.
Although reservations are somewhat hard to come by, a visit will be well worth the effort.