Nobu was the first meal that I saved up for, it was also the first meal in New York that truly blew me away. When I went to California last year, I specifically chose to dine at Matsuhisa (Nobu Matsuhisa’s first restaurant before he became known just as Nobu) as a basis for comparison. So 2 weeks ago when I revisited Nobu, I decided to review it thoroughly, drawing from my experience from Nobu, Next Door Nobu, Nobu 57, and Matsuhisa.
At many modern Japanese restaurants in New York, you see elements that are inspired by Nobu. In fact, you can almost say that Nobu defines modern Japanese cuisine, at least in the Americas. Since creating his unique style during his stay in Peru, the mix of classical techniques with South American flavors has struck a cord with American diners.
During the most recent visit, I decided to once again opt for the omakase. Next Door Nobu was my first omakase, and since then I’ve completely embraced the concept of “tasting menus”, letting the chef get creative, and in the process expanding my palate.
This was my 4th omakase meal at Nobu restaurants. As someone more experienced with Chef Matsuhisa’s omakase meals, I sort of know what to expect, but was still hoping to be blown away like the first time.
One quick note before we get to the food. Nobu still looks great in terms of interior design, with David Rockwell’s design standing up well against the test of time. With that said, the little details are starting to look a bit dated, perhaps in the next year or two a makeover is due.
We were asked if we preferred the omakase of classic Nobu dishes, or the omakase meal for the experienced Nobu regular. While I was tempted by new dishes, it has been some time since I’ve experienced the classics.
The meal started off with some nice sashimi and a tuna salad with “Matsuhisa dressing”. While both were good, I was slightly disappointed I did not get the yellowtail with jalapeno.
The now familiar omakase followed with rock shrimp tempura and the perhaps now world famous miso cod. The cod is famous for a reason, the texture is astonishing.
Before the meal concludes, you get a few pieces of sushi, and a cup of miso soup. I found it amusing how they explained why no spoons were given (Japanese people drink out of the bowl directly), other high end Japanese places takes the customer’s knowledge of this as a given. Has Nobu been getting too many tourists?
Dessert, which were the highlights of my meals from visits in 2005 and 2007, was sadly unmemorable.
So how do I sum up this visit, and perhaps compare it with its other locations and different visits? First of all, Nobu is always consistent, and the excellent management shows in the execution. Last year I was underwhelmed by Matsuhisa in Los Angeles, only later to find out that the restaurant is owned and managed by Nobu Matsuhisa himself, and not the Myraid Restaurant Group. However, what you gain in professionalism of management , you lose on creativity and innovation. Nobu impressed me the first time, but after that it just feels like a meal. Compared to places like Kyo-Ya, omakase Nobu is almost too predictable. A damn good meal, but nevertheless just a meal with little originality since the debut in ’93.
What does this rating mean?