necco

Japanese tapas finding root in the heart of Westwood

By Tracy Ng

How many Japanese chefs can you name who were also grunge rock musicians, and have had their cuisine written up by the New York Times and beloved by Grammy award–winning musicians? After spending decades in the food and music industries, from Tokyo to LA, Chef Kenji Koyama quietly opened Necco in 2014, serving up modern Japanese tapas in Westwood.

Like one of his favorite musicians, Neil Young, Chef Kenji’s work is inspired by multiple genres, and woven into storytelling pieces of deep personal expression. With a name that literally translates to “roots,” Necco’s menu keeps the focus on root vegetables. Likewise, Koyama’s cooking is rooted in Japanese heart, and it’s his desire for it to firmly take root in this Californian, health-conscious dining community.

Vegetable-focused tapas can range from a kale and nori mix with black sesame dressing and umami on full blast, to a kabocha pumpkin salad with vegenaise, raisins, maple syrup, and roasted pumpkin seeds, which somehow tasted like Japanese Thanksgiving. The meat-centric dishes dial it up with perfectly roasted Wagyu beef, miso-marinated salmon, plus lotus croquettes topped with house-made “dark ketchup” that are so surprisingly tasty you fail to notice the absence of meat. Koyama’s training as a sushi chef shines through in the third refrain, with pristine sashimi folded over premium sushi rice.
Then consider a trio of sakes designed to enhance the meal: two that are crisp, light, and smooth, and a third that is unexpectedly subtle, sophisticated, and unfiltered. All three round out the clean, meticulous components of the bento. And for the mic drop, the matcha sandwich is a reassuring reminder that healthy and tasty can coexist beautifully.

When asked what song provided inspiration or should be played with this arrangement, Chef Kenji without hesitation named Neil Young’s “Sugar Mountain.” And indeed there is nostalgia for the familiar here, as the chef makes his mark with an elevated yet approachable culinary touch.

hours

Wed–Mon 11:30 AM–3 PM, 5:30 PM–11 PM
Closed Tuesday

price range

$19 (eggplant steak) to $28 (Japanese-style aquapazza)
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