Niki Nakayama modernizes the traditional Japanese holiday feast.
Chef Niki Nakayama’s n/naka is known for breathtaking kaiseki meals that weave together Japanese tradition, modern creativity and California ingredients. The Chef’s Table star’s restaurant is also known for being one of the toughest reservations in Los Angeles.
So here’s a hot ticket alert: Seats for n/naka’s special Dec. 30 to 31 osechi menu will go on sale Nov. 19. If you want to celebrate the New Year at n/naka, you should act fast.
Osechi are traditional New Year's foods, sometimes eaten over the span of a three-day celebration.
“It’s really one of those events when family comes together,” Nakayama says. “There’s something heartwarming about being able to spend a lot of time together.”
Like Thanksgiving weekend in the United States, the New Year in Japan is a rare chance for many families to take time off from their busy schedules and feast with their loved ones at a leisurely pace.
“It’s the biggest holiday when families come together,” Nakayama says.
“There’s a lot of grazing during the day,” says n/naka sous chef, Carole Iida-Nakayama, who is Nakayama’s partner in both life and at the restaurant.
But n/naka is transforming the typical osechi feast, which is usually served in a bento-box format, into an elegant 13-course tasting-menu dinner ($225 per person, not including an optional wine-and-sake pairing). The restaurant will feature many of the symbolic dishes and familiar flavors that are associated with osechi while taking the ingredients to new places.
“We’re reinterpreting them in ways that fit today’s dining culture,” Nakayama says.
Datemaki, an egg omelet rolled up like a scroll, represents education and knowledge. The omelet is often eaten by itself, but n/naka plans to serve datemaki as part of a chirashi course. You can also expect the menu to include different fish eggs—like ikura (salmon roe) and kazunoko (herring roe)—that represent fertility and happiness. Kuromame, savory and sweet black soybeans that represent hard work, might show up in a dessert.
Nakayama also loves eating savory mochi as part of an osechi meal.
“Generally through the year, mochi is something sweet, often with red bean,” Nakayama says. “During New Year’s, one of my favorite ways to eat it is with a very savory vegetable broth.”
Nakayama, who cooks dishes at n/naka with a lot of produce from her home garden, might use carrots and turnips she’s grown herself for the broth. She’ll infuse the broth with chrysanthemum leaf.
“When I smell chrysanthemum leaf, I can’t help but think of New Year’s,” she says.
Iida-Nakayama remembers family New Year’s celebrations where savory mochi would involve her mom making vegetable broth while her aunt kneaded rice. Again, holiday food is about family.
“We’re planning, of course, our regular 13 courses,” Nakayama says. “But there’s going to be a little more backstory, which is fun for guests to experience.”
n/naka, 3455 Overland Avenue, Los Angeles, 310-836-6252