Nobu, New York – Restaurant Review
When Nobu opened its doors in Tribeca in 1994, chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa had already wowed diners in Los Angeles with his Japanese-Latin fusion cuisine and would soon be appearing in locations as varied as Beijing, Budapest, Dallas, Dubai, Miami, Moscow, Lana’i, and Las Vegas.
Arriving a few minutes early for a 5:45 p.m. dinner reservation, the one thing we didn’t find was an open door. It was snowing and cold, and a line was beginning to form outside Nobu, but no one seemed to mind terribly. When the door opened, the staff greeted us warmly as we entered and my dining companion and I were soon seated at a corner table in the front dining room.
The dining room was bright although the lights were (mercifully) dimmed a bit as the evening went on. The décor, natural textures, bamboo pillars, wooden birch trees, are meant to conjure up the Japanese countryside. The naked table tops are burnt ash and a black rock is set in at each place as the chopstick holder.
The sake martini, formally the Matsuhisa Martini, is a mixture of Krome vodka, Hokusetsu sake, and ginger. It’s garnished with cucumbers that float on top. It has a bit of a kick to it but the ingredients work surprisingly well together. I made a mental note to experiment with floating cucumbers.
The best way to experience Nobu is by ordering the omakase (chef’s tasting) menu. In fact, the explanation on the menu is a great understatement: “experience the essence of chef Matsuhisa’s cuisine with the multi course omakase menu.” It’s not just the chef’s essence that appears on the table, you get the feeling that he is in the kitchen, thinking, “what should I send out next?”
The food started coming out.
First, a generous portion of toro tartar (toro is the best part of a tuna) swimming in a ginger sauce, topped with caviar, all in a dish on a bed of ice, with a single yamamomo mountain berry accompanying it. A wooden spoon was placed on the table and the server instructed us to commence with the tuna and finish with the berry.
Next came what Nobu calls “new style sashimi,” four Kumamoto oysters, slightly braised, in ginger sauce, on a bed of cucumber.
I began to wonder exactly how much food we would be getting.
The oyster shells were cleared and replaced by sashimi salad, a plate with three slices of Kampachi fish, accompanied by shredded carrot, radish, and pumpkin.
One of the two highlights of the omakase was the lobster tempura, in a delicious creamy, spicy sauce.
That was just a tease. Here it is, what I was waiting for, a wedge of miso-glazed black cod, which takes three days to prepare according to the server (it’s really marinated for three days but that’s besides the point), served with Foie Gras. This is one of Nobu’s flagship dishes and has been copied the world over but it had its origins here in this very kitchen. The taste is nothing if not luscious.
What could possibly follow the cod but a small plate of sushi accompanied by miso soup with a clam inside. It must have gotten lost. Chef Matsuhisa, despite being in New York, seems to have fish fresher than one could find anywhere but the Tokyo Fish Market (which I just visited). Each slice was buttery and delicious.
Lacquered Bento boxes appeared on the table and the server removed their covers, revealing dessert: the best green tea ice cream I’ve ever had and a warm chocolate soufflé. Fusion dessert.
Nobu was way ahead of the curve when it opened in 1994 and, while it has inspired numerous copies, the high level of quality, the knowledgeable staff, and the very essence of chef Matsuhisa all come alive on Hudson Street.
105 Hudson Street
New York, N.Y. 10013
Telephone +1 212 219-0500