Saturday, June 27, 2015

Naka - a new favorite restaurant in Avignon



Here is the second most often ignored advice that I give to visitors coming to Provence (the first being "don't plan too much" which is usually met with polite blinking stares): take it easy on the French food. Now, I get it, you have come all this way, of course your instinct is to start with a croissant and café creme and keep on frenchifying your way through the day until that last delectable bite of croquant au chocolat...but instincts, while precious, can be deceiving.


Because sometimes - and certainly in very touristy towns - French is not necessarily the best option. Those restaurants with incredibly long menus often touted by a charming young lady out front of the establishment (which is illegal by the way)? Well, as the kitchen is most likely the size of a postage stamp, how on earth could all of those ingredients be fresh? And besides, in giving your palate a break, you will appreciate your next foie gras à la poêle avec réduction des cerises even more. Your belly will thank you as well for a bit of something lighter instead of having two big meals out per day... so what about some, say, Japanese food?


I had been wanting to go to Naka for quite some time but it was finally the ever-elegant Madame L who dragged me out of this tiny village so that we could take the bus to Avignon (while elegant, she is also practical) in order to give it a try.


As we would be arriving at 2pm, which is quite late for lunch, she had called ahead in order to confirm that it would still be open. Knowing how things work in the region, I feared that we would be seated but slighted then rushed. Happily, I couldn't have been further from the truth as the service was delightful - professional but light-handed and friendly (as long-time readers might remember, since I have worked as a waitress myself back in my NYC days I am more than a little exigeante when it comes to this métier).


While we loved being on the cobble-stone terrace overlooking one of Avignon's most attractive squares (and I can only imagine how fabulous it would be in the evening), the interior is simply gorgeous - a perfect contrast between the patina of the original stone walls and sleek modern elements such as floating paper lanterns by artist Céline Wright. There is also a comfortable bar area filled with worn leather Chesterfield sofas with a prime view on the sushi bar where some down-low lounge was being played quietly in the background.


Of course all of this is merely la cerise sur le gâteau compared to...the food. Chef Katsuhiro Naka arrived in France from Tokyo in 1977 when he was only 18 years old with hopes of learning la gastronomie française. Having been denied a work visa, he wrote directly to then Président Giscard d'Estaing who not only accorded him his carte de séjour but gave him an appointment at Maxim's in Paris. Chef Katsuhiro worked his way through many grand establishments such as Taillevent and Ledoyen before opening his own restaurant, which two of his children helped him run. As a member of the family was running a yoga studio in Avignon (which is now above the restaurant), eventually the entire family made the move to Provence and Naka was opened in 2013. Isn't this an amazing story?


But let's return to our plates. The sushi and sashimi that I had were probably the best that I have eaten during the 14 years that I have lived in France for their freshness and correctness of presentation. There was nothing fancy about them - how can you get more basic than a California roll? - and yet it was truly delicious. On the lunch menu, the sushi, sashimi and maki were accompanied by two excellent sides (the house favorite of soy-marinated eggplant and crunchy black seaweed), miso soup and sticky rice - for only 14 Euros. As Madame L remarked, "That is the price for a mediocre salad in a café!" For her part, she enjoyed an equally copious mixed tempura with gambas and a variety of veggies for 14.50 Euros. We both had a nice glass of white - Naka's dedication to their wine list is rather unheard of for Asian restaurants in the South - and chatted in between sips, both lifting our heads to catch the occasional breeze.


Naka in itself is certainly a breath of fresh air. While literally a stone's throw away from the hordes on the Place de l'Horloge, we felt like we were in our special corner of Avignon, one that I can't wait to return to again.

Naka
Cuisine Japonaise
4 Place de la Principale
84000 - Avignon
Tel.: +33 (0)4 90 82 15 70

*As always, this is not a sponsored post, just me sharing a good address!*

Bon Weekend tout la monde...

23 comments:

Lorrie said...

What a delightful post. When I saw the first photo, I immediately thought, "Avignon!" We enjoyed exploring the walled part of town a few years ago.
We also learned, in Paris, that those touristy menus cannot compare to finding a little out of the way place where one hears only (or mostly) French. But I would never have imagined trying Asian food in France - it sounds wonderful!

Unknown said...

I can only hope that Naka remains when I next travel to Avignon! Thank you for this feast-of-a-post, Heather. Jubilantly from rainbow U.S.A., Leslie in Oregon

Wyn Vogel said...

Heather a suggestion to tuck away - fantastic shots and as usual - although the sun is shining and we have just come in from the beach - filming the waves - I am green with envy at the old stone walls and the eclectic mix with Japanese food!! Whooo!!!

Rowan said...

A different post! Sounds very yummy! I enjoyed the photos of the pared back, typical Japanese restraint and elegance. A bit of long distance armchair travel! Glad you had a fun day out!
Cheers,
Deb C -Melbourne

robin said...

Oooo - exciting new find, non? Love the decor, and the food - your dish in particular - looks sooooo yummy!!! Yay for nearby sushi!!!

chezbon said...

I live in the Languedoc, and have had "adequate" japanese food in the area, but this looks quite special. I will definitely work in a meal here on my next visit to the Avignon area! Thanks for writing about it.
bonnie

silkannthreades said...

Yum! I haven't had Japanese food in ages.

Jackie and Joel Smith said...

I've got to - again - say how refreshing it is to read blog recommendations that aren't sponsored and thus filled with gush and a disclaimer at the end saying 'the opinions are strictly my own'! I've actually quit reading some because of that stilted approach to reviewing -- loved this recommendation though and the photos were beautiful!

RebeccaNYC said...

Sounds great, and so reasonable! This goes right on the "must try" list!

simpleimages2 said...

The Naka plates stir my taste buds. The simplicity and beauty of the presentation complement the taste. The "soy-marinated eggplant and crunchy black seaweed” and sushi and sashimi should start the experience of “frenchifying “ the Oriental way. I love it.

La Contessa said...

IT all looks delicious!I shall take YOU when I arrive................
But this week I go to AKRON, OHIO..........to meet an INSTAGRAMER!!!YES< YES........I am flying making three plane changes to get there and I do not even know the person!RISKY...........NO.ADVENTURE FOR CERTAIN!!!
XOXOX

Heather Robinson said...

It really is Lorrie - especially when there is a bit of asian/french fusion involved. And yes, it is so important to avoid the tourist traps in France for it really is possible to eat a bad meal here! If possible, the fewer choices available on a daily menu, the better...

Heather Robinson said...

You better let me know if you come back to Provence!!!!!!!!

Heather Robinson said...

Isn't the design perfect? I love it. And I hope this sent some warmth to you down under, Wyn!

Heather Robinson said...

I think that you have quite a bit of great options in Melbourne for Asian food, Deb - but here, not so much so this makes me happy to find.

Heather Robinson said...

Sister, you know how much this means to me... :)

Heather Robinson said...

Bonnie, it was SO good. I am really picky when it comes to Japanese food too. Plus the menu has a lot more going for it then just the basics I showed here. :) Avignon is a tricky food town, this was a real hit for me.

Heather Robinson said...

You haven't, G? Such clean flavours - I would think that would be right up your alley! :)

Heather Robinson said...

It is a fine line to walk, Jackie - I know that from being a travel writer - there were times when the sponsors weren't so happy when I said what I thought about things! But honestly, I would definitely accept sponsors here if I were approached by people that I thought would be a good fit!!

Heather Robinson said...

I think that you meant, "must try when I finally meet Heather" list...right? Right? :)

Heather Robinson said...

Edgar, you know how spoiled one is in California in terms of Japanese food - but I am telling you this was right up there...and the eggplant was exceptional...

Heather Robinson said...

Only you, my friend...Only you!! I can't wait to hear all about it and am a tiiiiny bit jealous that you aren't taking the plane to see ME!

Let's Have Lunch said...

You've got a treasure there Heather and such great value.
The care the Japenese take in the preparation.
A feast for the eyes.
Cheers
Neat xx