Sunday, April 17, 2011

Nobu Los Angeles - 04/16/2011

903 North La Cienega Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(310) 657-5711

Nobu Matsuhisa is justifiably famous for his role in the development of progressive Japanese cuisine. Nobu spent the first seven years of his career at Matsue Sushi in Tokyo before a regular customer convinced him to move to Peru to open a Japanese restaurant. Nobu's time in Peru forced him to creatively adapt local ingredients into his cooking resulting in the development of his signature style that blends Japanese and Peruvian culinary tradition. Eventually differences between Nobu and his partner would lead Nobu to strike out on his own Nobu ran into trouble immediately when his restaurant in Alaska burned down just after opening. Nobu came to LA in 1977, where he would spend a decade working at Mitsuwa and Oshou before trying his hand at owning his own place again and opening Matsuhisa.

Almost overnight Matsuhisa became a sensation with the Hollywood celebrity crowd including Robert Di Niro who would eventually become Nobu's partner. Today Nobu controls a restaurant empire that spans thirty restaurants on five continents, oddly he doesn't have anything in South America where he really started to come into his own.

When I first heard that Nobu Matsuhisa was opening Nobu Los Angeles a mile from his original Matsuhisa I was a bit skeptical. With another outpost up PCH in Malibu surely there wasn't room for yet another of his eponymous restaurants on the west side. Still I was looking forward to making a trip at some point down the road and it ended up taking three years and a friend hosting a private dinner to get me there. Nobu LA has a much more modern and luxurious feel than both its older Malibu sibling and Matsuhisa cousin. We ended up in the private dining room, a contemporary yet serene space in the center of the restaurant.

Japanese Caipirinha - Leblon Cachaca, Fresh Lime, Shiso & Ginger Beer
This was described as a Japanese Mojito with the Shiso imparting a more floral softer flavor that normal mint and the ginger beer giving the drink a nice effervescent bite.

Yamazaki Sidecar - Yamazaki 12 Yr Single Malt, Yuzu Juice & Gran Torres Orange Liquor
I was expecting this to be sweeter with the yuzu and orange liquor but instead it was the oaky whiskey that came through most clearly.

Mia Margarita - Corralejo Anejo, Passion Fruit, Shichimi & Fresh Lime Juice
This was my favorite of the opening libations, ripe lush fruit paired seamlessly with the woody tequila and finished with a hit of spice from the Shichimi (Japanese 7 spice).

Amuse - Raspberry Gelée, Pea Puree, Micro Cilantro
The amuse was a pleasant surprise, much more creative than I was expecting from an institution like Nobu. The vibrant maroon cuboid of gelée was predictably sweet like a ripe raspberry jam. The overarching sweetness was tempered by the vegetal pea and cilantro. Intriguing and cerebral I found myself playing this course over and over again in my head.

Salmon Tartare - with Caviar and Kumamoto Oyster with Nobu Sauce
Eating the salmon tartare brought back memories of my first visit to Nobu back in 2005. The salmon is finely minced giving it a oily creaminess set off by the brine of the caviar and the eye-watering wasabi flavor of the Nobu Sauce. The oyster was one of my favorite types and the garnish of pickled minced onion added a unique flavor reminiscent of relish. The fluke was the least interesting of the fishes texturally though I did like the crisp crunch of the fresh wasabi.

Sashimi Trio - Fresh Tako Sashimi Tiradito Style, Kanpachi Sashimi with Artichoke and Dried Miso, Hirame Sashimi with Wasabi Salsa and Ponzu
The tako was my favorite of the trio, the slick fleshy octopus has no natural flavor to speak of hence it was perfect with the brazen mix of acid and spice. The fatty kanpachi was the richest of the three, with a fried sapor courtesy of the artichoke.

Sashimi Salad - with Tataki, Tako Carpaccio, and Tazmanian Ocean Trout
The salad was a melange of fish and vegetable drenched in "Matsuhisa" sauce, a mixture of onion, soy and vinegar. Though enjoyable, the quality of the fish was a definite step down from the sashimi.  The octopus in particular was a far cry from the elegantly textured tiradito.

Toro Tataki
Earlier in the meal I got into a discussion about the merits of toro versus Wagyu. Though I chose Wagyu, this was a damn compelling case for toro. The fish is immensely rich with the seared exterior giving the dish a savory smokiness. The greens and daikon help keep the flavor clean and light.

Live Scallop Tiradito
This was one of the evening's specials. The flavor was identical to the octopus sashimi earlier. The texture was a bit rubbery which was a letdown though the slightly crunchy muscle trimmings were a nice touch.

Botan Ebi - New-style Sashimi
At Matsushisa, Nobu came up with New-style sashimi for patrons who didn't feel comfortable eating seafood completely raw. The shrimp is dressed with sesame, chives, and ginger and hot oil is splashed over the top which releases the flavor of the accompaniments; the resulting flavor was almost identical to the lobster with onion and ginger served at Chinese restaurants. We were served the customary plate of fried heads and I was fortunate enough to score a few extras from people too squeamish to try them.

Seabass - with Truffle Panko Crust and Yuzu Truffle Butter
Though a bit dry and overdone, the seabass was saved by the crunch of the savory earthy crust. The clean flavor profile of the seabass meant the aroma and flavor of the truffle came through unabated. The fish rested on a bed of spinach which provided a bitter iron tang to offset the weight of the fish.

Nori Kaba Wagyu Steak - with Rosemary Aioli
I've found myself warming to Australian Wagyu lately though it is unclear just how much is because of actual improvement in the beef and how much is due to the absence of true Japanese Wagyu. The meat was suitably unctuous but the texture was inconsistent with bursts of buttery richness between leaner bites.

King Crab Tempura - with Amazu Ponzu Sauce
The king crab tempura has been one of the consistently great dishes at Nobu and Matsuhisa. The fluffy batter and sweet shrimp is soaked in a delightful ponzu sauce reminiscent of a sweet and sour sauce with thin slices of Serrano chilies to add some kick.

White Shrimp - with Lardo Veil & Brussels Sprouts
I was on the fence with this one but the thin veil of lard sealed the deal. The large shrimp were deeply buttery but slightly overcooked. The gauzy layer of fat added a nice slickness that partially compensated for the rubbery texture of the shrimp. Like the bass, the bitterness of the vegetable provided a measure of contrast.

Assorted Premium Sushi - Tai, Aji, Toro, Uni, Anago
Curiously the sushi at Nobu has always been consistently lackluster. The fish was okay but the pieces felt a bit dry as if they were cut and left to sit.

Clear Soup
Accompanying the sushi was a clear seafood broth; light and soulful the soup captures just enough seafood flavor.

Monkfish Pate - with Caviar
My past few experiences with monkfish have been lackluster. I wonder if this is a seasonal issue as the issue has consistently been with the texture; coarse almost grainy instead of the the silky smoothness that I was expecting. The liver was actually fairly subdued providing supporting richness to the bath of sweet miso and the salty caviar.

Perfect Pear Dessert - Amaretto Ice Cream
What little pair there that was in the dessert was hidden away in what tasted like a frozen tiramisu. Actually, the chocolate and amaretto ice cream were so good that the pear felt completely unnecessary so I didn't really miss its absence.

Nobu's LA outpost follows the same the formula that Nobu has used to build his worldwide empire. That being said the food remains enjoyable with some flashes of greatness even if it doesn't break any new culinary ground.


kmannens said...

Another gem of a review!
$766 added gratuity. Don't you just love America's ri-di-ci-lous tipping culture?

Aaron said...

So a lardo veil is just a veil of lard? As I said on Kevin's blog, I Googled "lardo veil" and your blogs were some of the top hits.

Epicuryan said...

Good to hear from you! A lardo veil is indeed just a layer of lard, but it sounds so much better calling it a lardo veil. I suspect we are top hits because normal people would be ashamed to admit they ordered food covered in lard.