Chances are you’ve heard about Netflix’s tasty documentary: Chef’s Table, a six-parter which was released last year. Profiling some of the world’s most innovative chefs, the action-centered interviews delve into each chef’s cooking influences and styles and leave you salivating.
On our recent visit to Manhattan Beach, Monkey and I found ourselves watching episode 4, which features Niki Nakayma—LA-based chef and creator of N/Naka. With a months-long waitlist, and prices to match, we knew we wouldn’t score a table in this hallowed dining hall, but we were intrigued by her mentor, Takao Izumida.
A little internet sleuthing revealed that Takao is a master sushi chef, with a talent for incorporating the best of American cuisine, and has a restaurant in Brentwood. Admittedly, this isn’t super close to Manhattan Beach, but the series hooked us in and we decided to go on a little pilgrimage.
Outside and inside, Takao is humble. There’s nothing on the surface to differentiate it from your average neighborhood sushi joint. Japanese chatter filled the background as we were warmly welcomed and started to peruse the lengthy menu. As usual, we wanted to try everything.
We started with the seaweed salad which comes with a ponzu sauce. The full order is $18 – and seemed rather large – so we ordered a half-portion. It was light and fresh. Nothing like the dyed seaweed salads you so often get.
Next up, the Takao sashimi roll wrapped in soy paper with accompanying sauces ($18). Pleasing to the eye, and fun to dip in the different condiments, the soy paper itself did seem to gum up my mouth a little.
One of the signatures of Takao’s approach to food, is the mixing of two different cultures on a plate. The white fish new style sashimi with truffles (sic) for $24 is one of these dishes. With Yuzu, truffles and hot olive oil, it is surprisingly tasty pulling together the core elements: salt, fat, acid and umami. Once we had polished off the fish, the waitress intuited that we needed something to mop up the delicious oily mess left on the plate and offered to bring us a bowl of steaming white rice. Perfection.
But the highlight was the crispy rice and spicy tuna Takao special ($15) – pictured at the top of the story. There’s something about crunch that is so incredibly moreish (to my way of thinking, anyway). And this dish not only delivers crunch, but a hint of spice and the unctuousness of the rich tuna. By this stage I was stuffed, but there was no way I was leaving a scrap on the plate.
But Monkey had the last say. A fan of mochi for as long as I can remember he ordered two, straight up, for the road.
All in all, we had a great experience and a yummy meal, all made better by the fact we were on an adventure. Takao is not cheap, and while it may not hold a candle to N/Naka, it also doesn’t cost you an entire paycheck. Expect to be treated well and feel replete when you leave.
Reservations are recommended – contact Takao here.
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