Umami Mart Barware
Behind all the star chef restaurants such as Morimoto, Del Posto, and Craft Steak, lies a hidden treasure in deep west side of Chelsea, or I should call it Starchitect Row (if you know all the new condos and buildings in the neighborhood designed by Jean Nouvel, Shigeru Ban, Annabelle Selldorf, Frank Gehry to name a few) . It's right next to a new ugly condo development called Caledonia, and due to the construction, the restaurant's facade is almost hidden, and no one knows this place even exists.
Nakanaka means mediocore, or so so, in Japanese. Naka means middle, so Naka Naka is middle of middle. The name was a perfect one for a Japanese owned and operated restaurant, very humble, and food was well prepared. Naka Naka sounds fun if you don't know the meaning of it, but I wouldn't call my restaurant mediocore if I were the owner...

The place looks like a small restaurant in a small village, with only 18 seats plus one tatami room (if you go with two people, they will charge you $10 per person to sit there, so don't bother). Seats were very low, very uncomfortable. What's up with this family style dining, with totally wasted space in the middle?!

Place set was cute with origami wrapped chopsticks, resting on paper crane. I felt like I was in 1980s restaurant scene set or something. Instead of Jazz, it should have been some ballards like Miyuki Nakajima's very sad voice lingering through the restaurant. By the way, the orange curtain was put up just a couple of days ago, so now it looks like something is there, but until then, it was white curtains, and looked like a dentist office.

We had bunch of everything. Started with shrimp shumai, chikuzen-ni, and squid tempura. They were good. Then we had some sushi, which was very mediocore. I understand it is difficult to open a restaurant with a lot of authentic Japanese homemade food, but I would just stick to non-sushi items at a restaurant like Naka Naka.

After all the sushi we had, I wasn't yet full, so I ordered Kamo-Nanban, which is hot soba noodle soup with slices of duck. It was quite good, soba was actually very nice, soup was very good, duck was ok.

Although I didn't take a picture of it, the best was their check, the one you handwrite, which 99.9% of the time, it's completely illegible, but this one was totally typically Japanese. Very perfectly handwritten, no mistakes whatsoever. I was so impressed by it, so I was going to take it home, and take a real picture, but after we left, waiter came running to me, and told me that they need to keep it. We paid, you have the money, who cares about a piece of paper with all the orders!?

I will definitely go back there, with a group of people so that we can sit in their tatami room (if they are still open....)

Naka Naka
458 West 17th Street (10th Avenue)
(212) 929-8544

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1 comment

  • Even if the food isn’t out of this world – it’s something about finding a place. The discovery and the absence of preconceptions – so rare in big cities these days.

    yoko on

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