I’m such a rabid seeker of new adventures that sometimes I forget to return to calmer waters. Old favorites. Not just for comfort though that’s a perfectly good reason for choosing a restaurant but because there is some fabulous food out there offered in an arresting ambiance and like a good potato chip – no reason to eat just once.
This chelsea Japanese is such a place. But Japan in another century. Pry open the oyster to find a luminescent pearl and you have arrived in Naka Naka. About 18 seats, some of which surround an elevated platform, rice paper screens and a kimono clad staff who quietly explain the evening’s menu brought to you on a chalkboard. Your chopsticks are resting on a beautiful origami crane, the music ranges from twenties Paris to edgy alternative but only as a zen backdrop and one cup of unfiltered sake later, paradise on a plate is not far behind.
The uni is briny and sweet and the portion generous. I’m a sucker for lotus root in any form but their sauteed version in a light shitake sauce rivals my favorite chinese classic. The sweet and salty oshinko works beautifully as a companion with the brilliantly fresh sushi and I do love a tasty hamachi collar. Their rice is seasoned well, toothsome and never vinegary. Then there’s the course that rounds out the meal..zaru udon or zaru soba served as you like, hot or cold. Combined with their signature duck, tempura vegetables or just a minimal spray of scallions makes a very satisfying dinner all the more delightful. The udon is plump, the soba a buckwheat dream and though not in need of anything more, I can’t leave a drop of the broth.
So now sated with food and outrageously good sake we all push the envelope just a tidge more because…well, because there’s mochi! I can’t love a dessert more and the Naka Naka mochi is everything one wants pounded sticky rice coated with a dusting of white (the sweet kind!) and wrapped around a ball of sweet ice cream to be – in case that was a goal for you. Talk about score.
And if a more private affair is required, there’s a charming enclosed area that seats up to six shoeless people on tatami mats, though there is a ten dollar per guest room surcharge.
458 West 17th Street btwn Ninth/Tenth Avenue
open Tuesday through Saturday 6pm-midnight