The half decade Shota Nakajima spent training in Japan cemented the Bellevue-raised chef’s desire to open a kaiseki restaurant and bring that nation’s traditionally rigid, achingly beautiful progression of five, 10, even 15 dishes home to Seattle. In 2015 he opened Naka on Capitol Hill. Despite Nakajima’s efforts to unbutton things a bit—a la carte items, zero dress code—people clearly wanted more laid-back eats and fewer reservation requirements. It’s a message that echoed all over the city this year. So, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, and pivot.
This year, Nakajima recast his restaurant from Naka to Adana. He heeded the cry for more casual fare with a menu of Japanese comfort food, much of it based on actual recipes from his mom. But he retained the aspects of Naka most important to him. Namely the coursed menu (now abbreviated down to three rounds for $37 with several options for each course) and a reverence for Pacific Northwest ingredients and seasons. This new everyman’s kaiseki feels casually luxe: grilled octopus topped with bright orange orbs of ikura, okra accompanied by pork belly and delicate wisps of katsuobushi, beef curry built on an hours-brewed batch of dashi. The street food–inspired bar menu skews even more relaxed; here the kitchen slings such things as a katsu sando, homey bites of panko-crust pork between slices of Japanese white bread.
The chef’s script flip gives diners the come-as-you-are vibe they desire. But in keeping Naka’s kaiseki soul intact, he clearly held on to his passion for the food he puts on the plate.
Other Pivots This Year...
Bar Sajor ⟶ Copal
When Matt Dillon recast beautiful Bar Sajor as something casual, he steered the primitive wood-fired kitchen toward rustic Latin American meat dishes and tacos that marshal the best of the season. The room: still beautiful.
Bar Noroeste ⟶ Kiki Ramen
Josh Henderson turned his avant-garde taco bar into a Japanese-spirited destination for straightforward ramen.
Sazerac ⟶ Outlier
From New Orleans to New American, this restaurant revamped its menu (goodbye gumbo, hello beet-cured salmon) and its interiors (is that a huge mural of local beer cans?).