Fresh from the SGV

Niki Nakayama brings her garden to the kitchen

We were convinced when driving through the heart of the San Gabriel Valley the other week that the area must be an agricultural wasteland. 

We were sweating because the A/C was broken, and we observed boundless parched, sun-scorched lawns. Then we saw Niki Nakayama's backyard, with its raised beds brimming with feathery shiso plants, a trellised tangle of Japanese long beans, sprawling Kabocha squash vines, and much more.

The fruits of that backyard, which is labored over by Nakayama and the edible landscaping company Farmscape, are fodder for her restaurant, N/naka, in Palms. There's no menu at this contemporary kaiseki spot, simply a choice between nine or 13 courses ($110 and $165)–but trust that you're in good hands.

Nakayama serves excellent food year-round, but when we visited, garden produce was featured throughout our dinner. A particularly pungent shiso leaf cradled thick slices of rose-colored Big Eye tuna on a sashimi platter, which also included tilefish stacked against a curling tower of garden-fresh cucumber. In another course, traditional dashi took on the French guise of a butter-rich sauce flavored with backyard eggplant, which was poured over a thatch of crispy beet sticks and smoked salmon. 

And that squash vine? It provided Kabocha-squash cheesecake for dessert.

n/naka, 3455 S. Overland Ave., Palms; 310-836-6252 or n-naka.com