Niki Nakayama was born and raised in Los Angeles. She began her career at the popular Takao restaurant in Brentwood, following her graduation from culinary school in nearby Pasadena.
After embarking on a three-year working tour of Japan immersing herself in the deeply nuanced methods and flavors of both traditional and contemporary Japanese cuisine, including the art of traditional kaiseki, Nakayama returned to her hometown to open Azami Sushi Café on Melrose Avenue.
After eight years—during which she became known for her omakase menu—the chef branched out to host elaborate chef’s table dinners that resulted in Nakayama’s modernized kaiseki dining experience, which has become the signature cuisine of n/naka. As Nakayama describes, “I was ready to put my name on something, ready to take that leap and challenge myself—and ready to take the traditional kaiseki philosophy and make it my own.”
The balance and seasonality of the dishes
Kaiseki is a traditional Japanese culinary art form that reflects the constantly changing rhythms of nature and is rooted in tea ceremony rituals. In this style of food, “seasonality” means more than spring, summer, fall, and winter. One tenet of the culinary philosophy is to appreciate each moment in time—whether it’s the number of days that a particular vegetable is at its peak or the number of weeks that yellowtail fish are at their fattiest.
“So much of Japanese cooking is all the various steps we take and the things that we think about when we’re working with an ingredient; It’s always on some level ..listening’ to the ingredient.”
Modern kaiseki with a California twist
Today, n/naka serves as a global destination for modern kaiseki with a California twist, at which Nakayama serves world-class, artfully curated, and exquisite dishes in a progression designed to reflect the mood of season, time, and place. One of the toughest reservations to get in L.A. Nakayama’s devotion to sustainability also plays out at n/naka, with currently 70% of its ingredients sourced locally—a rarity in Japanese fine dining.
Restaurant web site: https://n-naka.com/
Restaurant address: 3455 Overland Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90034, United States