By Allison Levine, Foodable Contributor
Many of us are familiar with the Japanese phrase Omakase, which means "I'll leave it to you." Omakase, similar to the concept of a tasting menu, are ideal for those of us who like to try many dishes and don’t want to have to choose from the menu. With more and more restaurants around town offering tasting menus (often exclusively,) the diner guests, entrust the chef to select the dishes to serve. Here are three of our favorite spots in Los Angeles where we eagerly sit back and let the chef decide what we get to taste.
Chef Curtis Stone opened Maude at the beginning of the year. While dining at this intimate restaurant that only seats 25, you feel like you are having dinner at a friend’s house. What makes the tasting menu so unique at Maude is that it features a different seasonal ingredient which changes each month. Maude offers a nine-course tasting menu that ranges between $85-$95, depending on the featured ingredient (with a few months reaching $115.) Citrus, artichokes, peas, rhubarb, morels, berries and corn have all been featured. As the fall and winter seasons approach, some of the featured ingredients will be tomatoes, pears, truffles and winter squash. These featured ingredients inspire each of the nine courses and Chef Stone creatively integrates the ingredient, sometimes as a central ingredient and other times in more subtle manner.
To get a table at this 25 seat restaurant requires advance planning. Reservations are accepted on the first of the previous month. However, you must be patient and persistent as that phone line will be busy all day with reservation requests. If you are fortunate to get a table, it is worth every bite.
Since Maude opened in January, I have been to Maude 4 times. Ever since I ate dishes such as the ‘Bacon & Eggs,’ a ravioli filled with duck egg, artichoke ricotta, an everything bagel crumb with Nueske applewood-smoked bacon, onion jus and stinging nettle during artichoke month, I have sworn to keep returning monthly.
212 S. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90212
Niki Nakayama, chef and owner of n/naka, is one of the world's only female kaiseki chefs. Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner that is a formal procession of courses. Emphasizing seasonality, each course showcases ingredients using a succession of preparations. Chef Nakayama even uses vegetables from her personal organic garden.
n/naka is located in a nondescript building in Palms. Look for the raked zen garden, as there is no sign or bright light to otherwise let you know you are in the right place. The décor inside is minimal but there is a calm warmth that will embrace you as you settle in for a 13-course tasting menu. The staff, while soft-spoken, is friendly and provides wonderfully detailed descriptions of each dish as they are presented.
There is a beauty in the simplicity of each dish as the food is presented in its most natural and purest state. The dishes progress from light to heavy with a raw dish, followed by a steamed dish and then a grilled dish, followed by a raw dish again. For $165, a meal at n/naka is an extraordinary experience but the meticulous preparation and beautiful presentation makes it worth every penny.
3455 Overland Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90034
After working in fine dining establishments in NY (Daniel, La Côte Basque, Les Célébrités,) Los Angeles (Meson G, Opus) and Los Gatos (Manresa), Josef Centeno made a name for himself in Los Angeles with the casual Bäco Mercat and Bar Amá. Last year, chef Centeno returned to his fine dining roots when he opened Orsa & Winston, a Japanese-Italian fusion restaurant, offering a tasting menu only. With approximately 34 seats, including the Chef’s counter with 4 seats, the menu changes daily making every dining experience there a unique one.
Orsa & Winston offers a few choices when it comes to tasting menus. Depending on your budget and your appetite, you can select from a five-course meal for $65, an eight- course meal for $90 or a 20+ course Omakase for $195 (and is only available at the Chef’s counter with 72-hour advance reservation.) They also offer a four-course family style meal for $55 which makes Orsa & Winston accessible to most foodies. No matter what tasting menu you select, be sure that the coddled egg with semolina and pancetta is included. This signature dish is a definite must.
122 W 4th St., Los Angeles, CA 90013
Tasting menus are not necessarily an inexpensive experience, but when the chef demonstrates his/her skill through creative dishes, artistic presentation and elegant service, it makes it worth the investment.