While chef/owner Shota Nakajima isn’t quite ready to chase the red-hot fast-casual trend, he is hoping to attract more repeat customers by backing off the high-end tasting menu experience found at Naka, his Japanese kaiseki restaurant on Capitol Hill. After service on Sunday, January 29, expect Naka to close for a few weeks of renovation before reopening in late February or early March as Adana.
“The main reason we’re changing is I want to do something more affordable,” Nakajima told Eater. “We’re concentrating on a three-course menu, and each course has three menu options. It’ll be hyper seasonal: We’ll be changing it once a month.” Sample menus are available on Adana’s new website; examples include roasted cauliflower, with sake, pork belly and katsuobushi as well as braised beef with carrot, potato, onion, and dashi stock. The curate-your-own menu will cost $37 before tax and gratuity, about half the price of Naka’s current $75 entry-level tasting menu, and a far cry from the $170 top-tier Chef’s Kaiseki experience.
Nakajima felt the problem wasn’t with the kaiseki — a particular style of artistic, seasonal Japanese cuisine not commonly found in the U.S. — but with the exclusive nature of his meals. “The people who came in loved it, but at the same time it was hard to get regulars. Our regulars were once every three months,” he said. Not only was that tough for his bottom line, but it also made it difficult for him and his staff to get to know — and pamper — regulars. “When it’s every three months you can forget who they were. Halfway through the meal you have to look up the name,” and then you kick yourself for not realizing sooner that they’ve supported you before, he said.
If you’re worried that the young chef is rushing into something new in a last ditch effort, Nakajima said Adana is a business concept he wrote about a year ago in case he wanted to open a second location. Adana means “nickname” in Japanese; Nakajima said it’s a reference to his intention of presenting Naka in a less formal way — and with bigger portions. “You can’t do kaiseki in three courses,” Nakajima said, “We’re not putting caviar on top of the food, not putting gold flakes — obviously with $37 you can’t afford that — but we’ll be using local king salmon. We’ll still focus on local produce, local ingredients.”
Expect Adana to be unveiled in two to three weeks if all goes well. The bar will be redesigned, lights spread out, stools and chairs changed, and in general the space will shift to a comfier vibe. “I feel like for some people it was a little...intimidating,” Nakajima said.
The restaurant, which seats around 60 between the dining room and a private dining area, will serve dinner daily from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., while the bar will stay open until midnight and serve its own menu of snacks, like a katsu sandwich and yakisoba noodles, from 10 p.m. to close. Chris Hoey will take on the role of executive chef, while Dustin Haarstad, a Canon alum who took over the bar program last fall, will continue to lead the bar team, which will serve a selection of $8 to $12 cocktails. The bar will still stock rare Japanese whiskys, though, such as Yamazaki Heavily Peated.
Kaiseki dinners won’t disappear entirely; they’ll likely occur as ticketed events each quarter to coincide with the change of seasons. Eventually, Nakajima may revisit Naka’s core concept in a more permanent form. “I don’t want people to say we can’t do fine dining in Seattle anymore,” he said. “I hope people keep doing it. I’m excited to see what it’s going to be like in a year.”
For now, though, the chef is simply excited for the possibility of more people trying his food. At Naka, “You come in for a date and grab wine and your check’s $300 or $400. I even have friends saying, ‘I’m waiting for the right occasion,’” he said. “But with the new concept, people can come in on more of a regular basis.”