GIVEN OUR PERCH ON THE PACIFIC RIM, profusion of globally reaching businesses, and a population prone to traveling—and eating—the culinary traditions of Japan and China, Korea and Southeast Asia are fused into Seattle’s very existence. (The Indian subcontinent? Another article unto itself.) By some measures, Thai food is more popular than pizza here. But lately, something is different. Gone are the days when Japanese food meant simply sushi and going for Chinese meant plates you’d never actually see in China. Some of these newcomers faithfully recreate traditions of their native countries, others take gleeful liberties. Each of these dishes—hand cut noodles, spicy soups, one gonzo burger—brings Asian food more squarely into Seattle’s mainstream.
Seattle’s only kaiseki establishment sidesteps many formalities associated with Japan’s centuries-old tradition of fine dining. Chef Shota Nakajima retains three major tenets: seasonality, a succession of small plates so stunning they might as well be art, and intensely personal service. Nakajima and his cooks literally watch diners’ faces for cues—unsated hunger, a desire for more salt, curiosity about all the gorgeous pickled vegetables. What sounds creepy in the abstract comes off as warmly attentive. Naka’s highly composed courses might include silky chawanmushi, vivid slivers of sashimi, or buttery black cod smoked on cedar. Speaking of things smoked on cedar, the ice cream definitely lives up to the hype. Naka does three kaiseki menus, from a $75 introduction to a custom 15-course extravaganza; if a three-hour dinner isn’t in the cards, the bar has a rocking a la carte menu and even better cocktails. 1449 E Pine St, Capitol Hill, 206-294-5230; nakaseattle.com