Feature

Critics’ choice: Japanese dining, three captivating ways

N/Naka; SakaMai; Sumi Yakitori

N/Naka Los AngelesA meal at this quiet Westside restaurant has the grace of sacrament or a poem, said Besha Rodell in LA Weekly. Though chef Niki Nakayama is a Los Angeles native, she has spent time working in a Japanese ryokan, or country inn, so she’s well-versed in the Japanese tradition of multicourse, formal dining that emphasizes seasonality and the passage of time. Each of Nakayama’s “astonishing” kaiseki dinners lasts at least two hours and “unfolds in quiet stanzas.” The opener might be lobster wrapped in avocado on a bed of dashi gelée, or sea-trout tartare with asparagus butter and nasturtium leaf. On many nights, the course known as shiizakana is Nakayama’s calling card: spaghettini with pickled cod roe, black abalone, and Italian summer truffles—“a wild dish, the line of the poem that smacks and then soothes you,” elevating the meal into “something singular.” The meat course will be followed by “a flurry of sushi” and, eventually, green-tea chocolate cake and matcha tea. By then, “you may find that the rhythm of the meal has gotten into your bones.” 3455 S. Overland Ave., (310) 836-6252

SakaMai New York CityThis new sake lounge aspires to change the way people think about rice-based brews, said James A. Foley in The Village Voice. Even in Japan, sake is “sort of an old man’s drink.” Here, few people of any age buy it to drink at home with dinner, but SakaMai’s co-owners, Tanner Fahl and Natalie Graham, are working to help customers appreciate that sake can be as varied, complex, and food-friendly as wine. To help beginners, the sake offerings here are grouped by flavor profile rather than region or brewing style, and the menu includes full-color images of the bottles plus short descriptive blurbs. “Though connoisseurs may blanch, sake even finds its way into some of head mixologist Shingo Gokan’s esoteric signature cocktails,” like Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, a “diabolically potent” blend of sake and bourbon, poured in a glass that has just been used to smother the embers of burning cloves and cinnamon. The Japanese-inspired small plates deviate from tradition too, as in the “playfully named” Egg on Egg on Egg—a bowl of sturgeon caviar, uni, and scrambled chicken eggs. 157 Ludlow St., (646) 590-0684

Sumi Yakitori Miami Miami’s best new Japanese restaurant might also be the city’s best-kept secret, said Emily Codik in the Miami New Times. Perhaps the deep-fried quail and skewered chicken hearts scare menu-scanners away, but that’s their loss. Jeffrey Chen, who struck gold when he opened Miami’s first ramen house last year, has here created a simple shrine to the Japanese tradition of grilled meat on a stick. The place is rarely full, and you probably won’t see anyone else ordering hamachi kama, the collar of the yellowtail. But you should, because the clean taste of the fish “melds beautifully with the charcoal of the grill.” If you aren’t ready for chicken gizzards, opt for wings. “They’re all treated with the same respect: grilled until their flesh trickles moisture and oozes the tongue-tickling aroma of smoke.” Should you feel inspired to tell others about your discovery, please don’t. “Some things are too good to be shared.” 21 SW 11th St., (786) 360-5570

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