"" What's She Eating Now?: Naka Naka, An Eastern Gem On The West Side

Friday, August 7, 2009

Naka Naka, An Eastern Gem On The West Side

I went out Tuesday night with the intention of just going to dinner­- no camera, no mini scratch pad, no agenda. But once I entered Naka Naka, I knew immediately that something noteworthy was about to take place.

Our original plan was to go to our favorite sushi establishment. Dan and I hadn’t seen the chefs there in a while and wanted to both maintain our regulars status and enjoy a wonderful meal in a familiar and comfortable setting. Tuesday is the their best night but unfortunately they were seating a large party at the sushi bar and could only take us at a table, away from the action and the witty banter of Hideo, Makato and Yutaka.

Dan’s voice was dampened with disappointment when he called to tell me and I knew I had to make some lemonade out of this situation and fast. “I remember reading something about this place Naka Naka near us, lets go check it out,” I suggested. “Whatever,” Dan responded, I am sure musing longingly about clinking ice cold mugs of Sapporo with the masters behind the bar at our usual spot.

On to Naka Naka

Dan’s perspective changed when we arrived at Naka Naka. Upon entering you are transported out of the hustle and bustle of New York into an understated yet beautiful room with jazz playing softly and a wonderfully relaxed feeling. The main room accommodates only 18 diners and has a unique seating arrangement primarily around a platform in the middle of the room on which small raised trays sit for your food. Japanese furniture, pottery and origami decorating the perimeter are quite charming.

Naka Naka offers several different types of Japanese cuisine and although they have a menu, the gems seemed to all be presented on a white board of specials brought to your table. We selected four of them: chrysanthemum leaves in a peanut sauce, lightly sautéed lotus root, strips of squid with sea urchin and grilled squid with a ginger-soy dipping sauce. The chrysanthemum was slightly overpowered by the peanut sauce, less due to the flavor combination and more because the leaves are delicate when cooked and the sauce is a little dense in comparison but the dish was in general good. This was coursed simultaneously with the lotus root, which was sublime. The texture was an ideal firmness under a marinade which gave the lotus root a rich sweetness. Our chopsticks were sparring in the bowl over the pleasing little perforated discs.

Next we had our two squid selections. The first - squid, uni and wasabi - is a perfect combination of textures and flavors. I have had similar dishes elsewhere, but Naka’s uni is superb and it became immediately apparent that Ika (squid) is a strength of the kitchen. The grilled squid was divine. Prepared very simply, the squid was cooked to a perfect tenderness, the light soy-ginger sauce an ideal accompaniment.

After the small plates we shared an assortment of sashimi which included three pieces each of yellow tail, tuna, salmon, squid and a little paper boat brimming with uni, the squid and uni being the standouts. At $39, the plate is a decent value and all of the fish was fresh and flavorful but that said, sushi is not their strong suit. I would stick to the prepared dishes, unless you have a particular craving in which case I would go a la carte as a starter and expect the pieces to be good but over-sized and not cut with the refinement you would find at a more traditional sushi restaurant.

In terms of price you can make a casual meal or a big night out of it depending on how you order and what you drink. There are some modestly priced filling dishes (such as soba) as well as some combination plates on offer if you want to manage the check. We were having such a lovely time and wanted to try a lot of things, however, so we played a little game I like to call “Recession Who?” Dan even ordered dessert, almost unheard of. Even with that approach our check was a palatable $100 per person, including a fair amount of sake. So if you’re favorite place tells you “Tonight you’re naka, naka, nadda going to come here,” call Naka Naka and see if they have room for you at the inn. Kanpai!

Naka Naka

458 West 17th Street (near 10th Avenue)

(212) 929-8544.


  1. Would you say you celebrate Naka Naka's entire catalogue?

  2. What is your favorite sushi place? Don't leave us hanging like that.

  3. I remember the beginning of the story a bit differently... That said, it truly was a unique experience and the food was amazing. I've never been to Japan, but I have to imagine the dining experiences there are similar to this -- from the ambiance to the menu to the service and right down to the drunk Japanese businessmen sitting next to us.

  4. bad thing:
    hot sticky thursday, cleaning, running around , taking care of the kids, wondering what to make for dinner.....

    good thing:
    husband calls asking if id like to meet him in the city for a business dinner at cafe boulud, only i had to be there in one hr , i was there in 45min...the best part of the night was meeting a lovely couple who told us about their daughters blog and how she loved food (like me) , i love your blog.....!!!!!

  5. Oracle, thanks for visiting and sorry it took me so long to reply. I have a post covering all of my favorite sushi spots in NYC in the queue so keep coming back! Kanpai!