I know, I know. Restaurants have reopened in Cali, and quite a few people are going about their lives like the good old days, dining and hanging out with friends. The bar downstairs to my apartment is packed every time I drive by, looking like a French sidewalk cafe.
BUT, if like me, you are more on the cautious side, you probably haven't been out to eat yet, and you either still hang on to home-cooking, or order take out all the time (like me).
Even so, sometimes, I want to have a nice dinner date at home or celebrate with a fancy meal that I can never manage to properly plate myself. I miss a good candlelight dinner, and when I want to treat myself, my run-of-the-mill instant ramen noodles just don't cut it.
Here are my four favorite LA restaurants offering takeout Japanese fine dining, and how to order them.
Before we start, as a side note, I am not affiliated with any of the listed restaurants in any way except as their patron. Because these are all takeout meals, I rank them only by the quality and price of the food and not their typical dine in experience.
No. 1 n/naka
My first dining experience at n/naka was in the restaurant, pre-pandemic, and it was one of the best meals I have ever had. Chef Niki Nakayama's unique interpretation of kaiseki - the traditional Japanese culinary art form, "reflects the ever-changing rhythms of the earth by taking the freshest seasonal ingredients and presenting them in their most natural states." The food itself was exquisite, but what I equally enjoyed was the obvious thought and care put into every part of the holistic dining experience: the presentation of each dish, the sequence of each dish, the selection of seasonal ingredients, the alcohol & juice pairings, the service… no part of the experience is left out. The servers remember you after you dine there once, and they take note of your preferences, so the next time you go, they adjust the course and service to accommodate without you even asking. I was glad to see them receive their first stars last year, but personally, I felt it a 3-star experience.
For takeout, I had their California Ekiben bento box. I like how much equal thought they put into the bento boxes, even though they are comparably much cheaper than their standard full course meal. Temperature is such an essential element in fine dining. Still, it is impossible to control the temperature of takeout - who knows when and where the customers choose to eat their meal? It was a pleasant surprise when I opened n/naka's new California Ekiben bento box to find a warm box, a cold box, and a dessert box with an ice pack on top. By arranging the time and temperature of each box and by creating a meal designed to be eaten close to room temperature, the meal is enjoyed as closely as possible to its intended temperature. Along with their typical selection of beautiful seasonal ingredients, this is undoubtedly the best takeout meal I have had during this pandemic.
These new California Ekiben bento boxes are recently made available on Tock, released every Saturday at 10:00am PST.
Michelin Guide, 2019: 2 Stars
Price: $65 per person.
Order online: https://www.exploretock.com/n-naka/
Their dine-in reservations are scheduled for release on Sundays at 10:00am PST.
Address: 3455 Overland Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90034
I have never been to Masakazu in person pre-pandemic, but I fell in love with their special to-go boxes. It is less on the fancy side, but you get very generous portions at a pretty reasonable price of $48 per person: a well-made sushi meal and a dessert. Their chef is an amiable and earnest Japanese man. I remember the first time when I went to pick up my to-go box, he kept shaking his head and telling me that I should really dine in once the restaurant reopens, because the to-go boxes are not representative of the quality of the sushi he makes. A little dubious, I went home and consumed his box and realized that he sold himself short. Before I tried the n/naka Cali Ekiben boxes, Masakazu sushi was hands-down my favorite to-go box choice whenever I craved sushi.
Price: $48 per person
Order by phone: 310-421-9779 between 12:30pm - 7:00pm
(order by 2:00pm for same day orders)
Pick-up time: 5:00pm - 8:00pm
Address: 1911 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025
No.3 Vespertine - Japan
This is from their official website:
"Vespertine is the vision of Chef Jordan Kahn. The project was formed through a collaboration with architect Eric Owen Moss, and a group of renowned artists to re-imagine and explore the experience of dining. The convergence of food, art, architecture, music, and sculpture is woven throughout to create an immersive, multi-sensory event."
However, in my opinion, the convergence of all these beautiful things are not as well integrated into their takeout package. The food is excellent, but the amount of DIY involved in setting up this takeout package is a lot larger, so if you don’t want to reheat and rearrange a variety of containers, this takeout package might not be for you.
The Japanese edition takeout package has ended, and now they offer a new edition called Vespertine - Sicily.
Michelin Guide, 2019: 2 Stars
Price: $79 per person
Order online: https://www.exploretock.com/vespertine/
Address: 3599 Hayden Ave, Culver City, CA 90232
Specialized in Japanese fusion cuisine, Yamakase is an invite-only restaurant with a dining area only big enough for around ten people at once. In 2015, I was lucky enough to tag along with a friend to one of Chef Yama's exclusive dining experience. He only caters to one customer group per day, and it shows through his meticulously prepared menu. Chef Yama hosted not only a meal but an event where you chat and laugh and drink together with the chef as he prepares the dinner behind the sushi bar. When I heard that he now offers omakase bento boxes during quarantine, I knew I needed to get my hands on one.
For $100 + tax per bento box, it offers a generous portion significant enough for two. I was mildly disappointed because the meal seems a little standard despite its precious ingredients like uni and Washugyu beef. But hey, it still felt self-indulgent as hell when I finished it, and that's the whole point, right?
Omakase Bento Box
Unagi (eel) and Steak Bento Box
Order through email: email@example.com
Address: 11901 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025
That's all, guys! As I'm finishing up typing this article, I received more nominations, and here is the list:
Inaba Manhattan Beach's seafood jewelry box
Sushi Kumura's private omakase catering
Let me know if you have personally dined at these restaurants and have had one of their takeouts and what you think of them.
MASAKAZU - Restaurant | 1911 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles .... https://usarestaurants.info/explore/united-states/california/los-angeles-county/los-angeles/272057-masakazu.htm
VESPERTINE - Reservations - Los Angeles, CA | Tock. https://www.exploretock.com/vespertine/search
Yamakase - Restaurant | 11901 Santa Monica Blvd, Los .... https://usarestaurants.info/explore/united-states/california/los-angeles-county/los-angeles/287771-yamakase.htm