Monday, August 9, 2010

Matsuhisa - 08/06/2010

129 South La Cienega Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
(310) 659-9639

Easily one of the most recognizable names when it comes to sushi, Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa has established a restaurant empire that spans five continents. Nobu found his calling as a sushi chef as a young boy and started his career at Matsuei at the tender age of 18. At the age of 24 Nobu partnered with one of the regulars at Matsuei and traveled to Peru to open his own restaurant. It was in Peru that Nobu developed his signature fusion style, as the scarcity of traditional Japanese ingredients forced him to adapt South American techniques and ingredients. After the partnership fell apart and Nobu struck out on his own, bouncing around Buenos Aires and Tokyo before settling in Alaska. However fate intervened and a fire destroyed Nobu's restaurant fifty days after it opened. Nobu returned to Japan before finally ending up in Los Angeles, where he opened the first Matsuhisa in 1987. The restaurant quickly established a following among the celebrity crowd including actor Robert De Niro. Eventually the two would partner along with Meir Teper to open Nobu in New York. The brand would spread quickly, today encompassing 20+ restaurants (with conflicting reports on the exact count) plus two more on the way (Budapest and Beijing). As if that weren't enough, the family also wholly owns four Matsuhisa branded restaurants.

Being a sushi fiend it seems inconceivable that there isn't a Matsuhisa post anywhere on my blog. Actually my first visit to the restaurant was in 2004, long before my blogging days; however an underwhelming experience kept me from making a second trip. The impetus for this visit comes from one of Kevin's readers who is in the restaurant industry herself. Hopefully being in the semi-private omakase room will improve matters.

Amaebi - with Uni, Oscetra Caviar and Yuzu
The meal started off with a bang, combining live Santa Barbara Sweet Shrimp with Santa Barbara Uni and a dollop of caviar. The muscular crunch and slight metallic twang of the shrimp paired naturally with the bright citrus and sweetness of the soft urchin roe.

Next up was a quartet of small plates.

Marinated Ocean Trout Roe - with Grated Daikon
This was my first experience with Ocean trout row. Despite how much ocean trout looks like salmon their roes look nothing alike. The marinated trout roe had a strong earthy bitterness that paired well with the lightness of the daikon.

Baby Conch - Escargot Style
I've never cared for the flavor of conch but the garlic butter was instrumental in tempering the bitterness of the conch innards.

Golden Eye Snapper Carpaccio - with Dried Miso
Probably the strongest of the quartet, the dry miso added an unexpected textural contrast and smoky sapor to the rich snappy fish.

Yellowtail - with Yuzu, Soy, and Chili
Last up was a single glistening slice of tender yellowtail. The combination of yuzu and soy paired well with the fish but it was the creeping heat from the chili jelly that made this distinctive.

Hamo Eel - with Yuzu, Miso, Eggs and Heart of Palm
I've only had King eel twice before both times at Urasawa and both times it was simply prepared. The eel has many tiny bones, requiring the itamae to make lots of shallow cuts in the meat before serving. This was a more complex preparation and though the sweet miso and wasabi tinged roe were enjoyable, their strong flavors overwhelmed the subtle essence of the eel.

Petarga - with Noodles
After the elaborate preparation of the hamo we each given a small ceramic bowl filled with sticky noodles and topped with dried fish roe. I was expecting something incredibly fishy but the flavor was reminiscent of oyster sauce, slightly briny but noticeably sweet as well.

Rock Cod - with Foie Gras and Shitake
Black cod with miso is one of the Matsuhisa signatures so we weren't surprised to see a variation of the dish as part of the omakase. The fish itself was flaky but less fatty than black cod but still went well with the sweetness of the miso and the pungency of the shitake.

Wagyu Ribeye - with Eringi Mushrooms and Anticucho Sauce
Up to this point, most of the courses were fairly traditional, not showing off the Peruvian touches that Matsuhisa is known for. The sauce added a piquant spicy mix to the unctuous beef while the crunch of the mushrooms added some textural depth to the dish.

The last savory course of the Omakase at Matsuhisa always consists of nigiri and soup. Today we had a selection of: Toro, Kanpachi, Mirugai, Seki Aji, and Anago as well as a Tai Kama (Red Snapper Collar) soup.

Toro - Fatty Tuna
What more could you ask for tender and rich, melt-in-your-mouth soft with no gristle or tendon.

Kanpachi - Amberjack
Another spot on nigiri, the fish had a light snap and subtle sweetness that was drawn out by the soy.

Mirugai - Giant Clam
Next up was a thick slab of clam biting through the dense muscle yields a light salinity that lingers on the palate.

Seki Aji - Spanish Mackerel
Spanish mackerel is one of those fishes that can vary dramatically depending on the restaurant. At some places the fish is dense and oily while at others the fish is delicate with a shade of sweetness. This definitely fell into the latter category lithe and tender with a mild flavor accented by the heat of the ginger.

Anago - Sea Eel
The last of our nigiri was a piece of sea eel. Probably the least impressive of the five, the texture was a touch mealy and the sweet sauce was enjoyable but nothing distinctive.

Tai Kama Soup - Snapper Collar Soup
The soup was made by boiling snapper head bones giving the broth a slightly milky color and a sweet fishiness. The soup also came with some of the bones and an eyeball letting us appreciate some of the gelatinous connective tissue as well.

The entire party still felt hungry at the end of the omakase so we ordered a couple of our favorite appetizers from last time and let our chef serve some nigiri.

Tai - Red Snapper
Our first supplement was a semi-translucent slice of tai with shiso, yuzu, and sea salt. The fish has a slightly tender but slightly grippy texture and veritably sang with the bright citrus.

King Crab Tempura - with Amazu Jalapeno
We had this course during our previous visit and it was so good we couldn't help but order it again. The crab meat comes wrapped perfectly in lightly fried batter. The warm crispy exterior yielding a treasure of sweet succulent crab. The tangy ponzu and fiery slivers of chili do wonders to counter the heft of the tempura. I could eat these bite sized morsels all day.

Tiradito - Peruvian Style Sashimi
Another of Nobu's signature dishes, the tiradito combines delicate thin slices of white fish with a citrus marinade reminiscent of ceviche but with a pronounced peppery bite.

Hotate - Scallop
The natural flavor of the scallop was minimal, offering little more than a light sweetness. The flavor was so subdued that I could clearly taste the thin band of nori.

Binnaga - Albacore
My earlier experiences with Albacore were with seared preparations of the fish. This was completely different and one of the truly spectacular pieces of the evening. The meat had a delicate pink color and a soft texture shot through with thin veins of marbling.

Uni - Sea Urchin
After the delicious uni we had at the start of the evening it seemed only fitting to end the meal with more uni. As always the initial briny attack transitions to a cool sweetness.

At this point we got the distinct impression the chefs were ready to leave so we decided to cut our meal short even though I think we could all have eaten more. Since the omakase comes with your choice of dessert, we each ordered something different to get a wider sampling.

Grape and Calpico Shaved Ice
Not being a huge fan of traditional shaved ice, I wasn't sure what to expect with this dessert. The Calpico was a decent substitute for condensed milk, giving the ice a lighter yogurt like tang instead of the typical sweetness.

Green Tea Tiramisu
This was one of the standout desserts last time and it proved to be again. The green tea is subtler than traditional cocoa powder and offers a slightly bitter contrast to the sweetened marscarpone that makes for an absolutely delicious pairing.

Bento Box - Hot Chocolate Souffle Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream
Probably the most pedestrian of all the desserts, the cake was dense and warm but lacked the delicacy of a true souffle.

Matsuhisa Cheesecake
Not sure exactly what makes this "Matsuhisa" branded cheesecake. The flavor is very similar to Asian cheesecakes I have had in the past, with the filling having a sweeter vanilla essence lacking in Western preparations.

Matsuhisa Sundae
This actually looked and tasted a lot like the tiramisu but just mangled and put into a cup. Not bad but the overall flavor was more blunt and less well integrated

Monaka Ice Cream
Our waitress recommended this dessert which proved to be mochi ice cream cone/sandwiches. The dessert came with a fruit soup and three dipping sauces (molasses, red bean and strawberry).

Though there were some things that could be improved upon, the savory dishes were generally delicious. The sushi in particular was substantially better than I remember. The desserts were somewhat underwhelming but that was to be expected with such straightforward desserts, the flavors are enjoyable but nothing groundbreaking. My main complaint was the timing of the courses, based on the timestamps of the photos, there was a 20 minute delay between courses. I suspect this was due in a large part to the chefs needing to prepare food for other tables but it did detract from the "private" experience. Service gaffes aside, it was easy to see how Matsuhisa earned its place as one of LA's great Japanese restaurants.


Darin said...

You've got some great pictures here, especially that one of the toro. I've found Matsuhisa to be a more reliable staple than Nobu's trendier 'Nobu' outposts.

Epicuryan said...


I've also found the quality at Nobu can vary widely between visits. This recent experience at Matsuhisa was definitely a step up from my last Nobu Malibu trip.

Anonymous said...

nice pics. what camera are u using? do u use flash in dark restaurants?

Epicuryan said...

Glad you like the photos. I am using a Nikon D300s. As for flash, I try not to use it because it is disruptive to other diners.