Nisei

Dinner – Friday, December 17, 2021

Nisei opened back in August, the brainchild of former Californios chef de cuisine David Yoshimura. True to its name, it (and its sister establishment Bar Iris next door) espouses a modern Japanese-American cuisine. I’d been quite interested in checking out both spots, but waited to schedule a dinner with some friends to sate my curiosity. Pre-dinner, I stopped in for drinks at Bar Iris, and that team (under the direction of Ilya Romanov) is putting out some top-notch cocktails – this only further whet my appetite for the tasting menu to follow.

Banana dorayaki, white sturgeon caviar
Red vinegar-cured trout, pomegranate, anise hyssop, ginger
Whipped potato croquette, Santa Barbara uni, smoked pepper relish

Matsutake suimono, nasturtium
Very clean, allowing the mushroom to shine through clearly. A superb broth.

Pumpkin chawanmushi
Walnut, black truffle, cured quail egg yolk

Maine scallop
Pine nut miso, turnip, watercress

American unagi, unagi tare
Renkon, daikon oroshi, shichimi

Coming from Maine, the freshwater eel was nicely grilled with an excellent housemade tare. Eaten with the grated daikon and housemade shichimi blend, it was a superb bite – and you can’t go wrong with a snack of the crunchy spine.

Japanese black curry, fried sweetbreads
Chanterelles, cilantro flowers, fermented Napa cabbage

一汁三菜 (Ichiju Sansai)
The classic “one soup, three sides” of washoku cuisine was the final savoury course. The soup was red miso, reconstituted in a smoked squab broth, and paired with creamy yuba and Tokyo negi. With it, came the meat – grilled squab breast in its jus. Rice was from local producer Rue & Forsman, and decorated with squab leg confit, sesame seeds and chive. Last but not least, there were some assertive tsukemono – fermented turnips, fermented wax beans, and miso-marinated garlic. A hearty, comforting course – I wish I could’ve had another round!

Okinawan sweet potato
Black sesame sablé, strawberry, micro-shiso

Both desserts were highlights of the menu, but I particularly enjoyed this first one, which was a recreation of a sweet potato harvest. Underneath the sablé soil hid a fudge and ice cream of sweet potato. Over the “earth”, lay pebbles of sweet potato mochi and “leaves” dusted with dehydrated strawberry. Eating all the components in a big spoonful was delightful, and very well balanced.

Mochi donut, kinako, chestnut cremeux
Warm chestnut milk

Champagne grapes
Kinako mochi, mandarin

Nisei is a work in progress, with some glimmers of brilliant cooking. For example, the soup and the ichiju sansai appear to reflect Yoshimura’s training at the fantastic Ishikawa, and the sweet potato dessert was 2* level. But some of the other courses might benefit from tweaking, and even though I’m not a big guy, the menu as a whole seemed overly light. Still, 4 months is not a lot of time in the current environment. I plan to keep an eye on their development, and look to return in the next year.

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