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Inside n/naka’s Quest to Create a True California Kaiseki Restaurant

Forbes talks to chef/owner Niki Nakayama about all things West Coast

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A dish from n/naka
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

Still trying to score a coveted reservation at n/naka, chef Niki Nakayama’s impossible-entry Japanese kaiseki restaurant in Palms? Good luck. The place is booked out for months (thanks in no small part to the Netflix series Chef’s Table) already, and now comes this extensive interview in Forbes with Nakayama herself. Better start clearing your 2018 calendar.

The longform interview with Forbes helps tell the story of Nakayama and her quest to open n/naka after years of working underneath others in kitchens around the world, while touching on issues of sustainability, Japanese ingredients, and snagging those all-important reservations. Here are a few highlights.

On local food

“I talked to so many chefs,” says Nakayama, “And over and over again, they said the key to freshness is sourcing as close as you can to your kitchen.”

Her connection to Michael Cimarusti

The restaurant not only sources local produce, they also work with Cimarusti and the Dock to Dish program, wherein restaurants can buy into local, sustainable seafood from Southern California to use at their restaurants.

Part of a recent meal at n/naka

Finding California sake

While Nakayama and her sous chef and partner Carole Iida-Nakayama have been experimenting with all-California kaiseki menus of late, they’re still having trouble sourcing quality sake from the state. She admits to buying almost exclusively from Japan, though there is one quality Northern California option called Sho Chiku Bai.

And, of course, how to get a table

Nakayama doesn’t actually offer much in the way of true tips for getting in, other than noting you might be able to squeeze a table earlier if you’re celebrating something particularly special. Otherwise, the reservation line opens at 10 a.m. on Sundays, so you’d better have the number on speed dial.