Tootsie Pops, Russian dolls, and Gushers - all awesome, and none would be as good without their fillings. Tootsie Pops would be boring suckers, Russian dolls would be regular dolls, and Gushers would be Fruit Snacks, which would suck. The point is that the best kinds of things come inside of other things. And this rule applies to Naoki, an excellent sushi restaurant inside a secretive room of another restaurant.
This space was originally L20, a serious high-dining experience inside of the Belden Stratford building, which had a private dining room hiding behind the kitchen. Fast-forward to today and L20 is gone, the former main dining room is Intro, and the old private room has been transformed into a separate restaurant - Naoki.
Naoki serves great sushi, most of which is traditional, simple, and expertly prepared. There are a few specials that add a bit of modern flare, but nothing too crazy. Even though we're into Naoki, it's not an everyday sushi restaurant unless you're flush with cash. It it were a little more affordable, we would eat here on the regular, but we're still willing to splurge on the price every now and then for the right occasion. Go on a repeat date, for dinner with family, or even go with a small group of friends looking to do it big.
The most surprising thing about Naoki is the fact it’s not overly fancy or proper despite the high costs. You would think an expensive sushi restaurant inside the private dining room of this building would be full of regulars like Cruella de Ville and Mr. Monopoly smoking out of 18K gold cigarette holders, but the scene is surprisingly casual, somewhat noisy, and far from uptight. The food is still expensive, but it tastes great and we like the fact it's not a formal affair.
Don't be turned off by the neon green color. The edamame has been mashed up into a dip, but it's the perfect way to get things started. The salty rice crisps are a great conduit for scooping.
Start with at least one of the special sashimi plates. We're into the hamachi with aji panca, scallion, and ponzu.
The specialty nigiri pieces are just interesting enough to add a little flavor, but they're not too crazy to detract from the fish. We're into this salmon with smoked soy and crispy shallot.
Another specialty nigiri piece - kanpachi with sesame dressing.
The hand rolls are good, but we could do without them. Unless you have a strong affinity for hand rolls, opt for more of the other things instead.
When done right, Rainbow Maki rolls are actually good. They aren't just suposed to be a ton of stuff on top of rice that's so crazy it hides flavors. You can really taste the difference in every piece depending whether it has tuna, salmon, or avocado on top.
Another simple but well done roll with hamachi, cucumber, and some jalapeño.
If you want a bigger entree, try the miso-glazed sea bass. This dish was made famous by Nobu, but the Naoki version is incredibly well done. Flakey and light sea bass has just enough of a sweet miso taste.
Of course, you can always stick to the simple stuff. All of the sashimi and nigiri are expertly cut and prepared. Order your favorites and order a lot of them, just make sure you can cover the bill.