***Even though Naka Kaiseki was closed on January 2017, chef Shota Nakajima converted the space into a more casual and cost conscious Adana (3 courses $37). You can also watch chef Nakajima compete on Food Network’s Iron Chef Gauntlet.
I have found the BEST Japanese restaurant in Seattle. And it has nothing to do with sushi.
Kaiseki is Japanese multi-course meal, in which fresh seasonal ingredients are prepared using complex techniques to enhance their flavor. The end result is an art form that balances taste, texture, appearance, and color.
I experienced my first Kaiseki at a ryokan in Hakone years ago. After a long day of traveling, photographing autumn leaves and a dip at the ryokan’s private onsen alongside a running creek, dinner was brought into my room by a Japanese maid. She carried with her a tray of small dishes, arranged artfully in beautiful potteries or bamboo baskets. Although I didn’t know where to start. I had great fun nibbling each of the dishes. At the end of the evening, my body warmed up, my tummy filled up and I was left with a fuzzy happy feeling.
That was the same feeling I had after dining at Naka Kaiseki the other night.
Typically Kaiseki menu consists of the following courses:
- Sakizuke (先附?): an appetizer similar to the French amuse-bouche.
- Hassun (八寸?): the second course, which sets the seasonal theme. Typically one kind of sushi and several smaller side dishes.
- Mukōzuke (向付?): a sliced dish of seasonal sashimi.
- Takiawase (煮合?): vegetables served with meat, fish or tofu; the ingredients are simmered separately.
- Futamono (蓋物?): a “lidded dish”; typically a soup.
- Yakimono (焼物?): (1) flame-grilled food (esp. fish); (2) earthenware, pottery, china.
- Su-zakana (酢肴?): a small dish used to clean the palate, such as vegetables in vinegar; vinegared appetizer.
- Hiyashi-bachi (冷し鉢?): served only in summer; chilled, lightly cooked vegetables.
- Naka-choko (中猪口?): another palate-cleanser; may be a light, acidic soup.
- Shiizakana (強肴?): a substantial dish, such as a hot pot.
- Gohan (御飯?): a rice dish made with seasonal ingredients.
- Kō no mono (香の物?): seasonal pickled vegetables.
- Tome-wan (止椀?): a miso-based or vegetable soup served with rice.
- Mizumono (水物?): a seasonal dessert; may be fruit, confection, ice cream, or cake.
This review is for the 10 course Naka Kaiseki menu:
#1 Tomato with St. Germain gelée
#2 Seasonal bites: Pickled whitefish, Tofu Dengaku, Kabucha squash, Braised eggplant, Sous vide duck, Pickled Turnip
#3 Fish on a plate (Sashimi)
#4 Matsutake chawanmushi
#5 Soy marinated grilled black cod
#6 Shiso sorbet
#7 Soy sautéed wagyu beef from Miyagi prefecture with sous vide egg
#8 Lobster mushroom tempura
#9 Maitake mushroom rice with tofu and miso soup
#10 Deconstructed flan
Chef prepares what’s best for the season, so there is no printed menu. But chef Shota is very kind to handwrite the menu for us.
There was no highs or lows of the evening. Every dish is prepared to demonstrate the perfect harmony of taste, texture, appearance, and color. Even simple dish like maitake mushroom rice was delicious and nurturing.
François de la Rochefoucauld once said, to eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art. The Japanese has mastered the art of eating for centuries, and Kaiseki is a fine example of that.
I hope you have the opportunity to visit Naka and try their kaiseki menu. It is the closest thing you can get without a plane ticket to Japan.
Address: 1449 E Pine St, Seattle, WA 98122
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