Yesterday ( Saturday) evening ,we went for dinner at Nobu in Tribeca . Two months ago , we had been to another top notch Japanese restaurant , Morimoto , and an added attraction to yesterday’s meal was to see how Nobu would stack up against Morimoto.
Nobu , of course , is the creation of Japanese- born master chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa who started out as a sushi chef in Tokyo and honed his art in Peru and Argentina before attaining fame Los Angeles with his iconic establishment , Matsuhisa. That was in 1987 and he has since expanded in a big way , now managing restaurants in 22 locations including Las Vegas , Aspen , Milan , London and Switzerland.
The Nobu in Tribeca was opened in 1994 and is a joint venture with actor Robert De Niro and restauteur Drew Nieporent. I had been there for lunch about 10 years ago and much water has flowed under the bridge since then . Nobu, however, remains the same . From the outside , the place is unprepossessing and it would be easy to miss the little white wall plaque ( ” Nobu”) unless one is looking for it . The decor inside may not be to everyone’s taste. The wood floors , the walls ( in shades of olive and salmon , one faced with river stones ) and the wall decorations are fine . On the other hand , the ” birch trees ” ( made of wooden slats nailed together ) interspersed between the tables are supposed to evoke the beauty of the Japanese countryside and I wasn’t impressed. Also , the salmon colored false ceiling with its odd-shaped geometric cutouts was puzzling .
I was impressed , however , with the food and the service.
Nobu offers omakase or tasting menus priced at $ 100 , $ 120 1nd $ 150 per head but we decided to order multiple portions of several dishes and share them, family style . One among our party had been to Nobu several times and we availed ourselves of her expertise. This way we were able to tailor the selections to our taste while still sampling a cross-section of the menu.
But first, we had some drinks . I stuck to beer ( Kirin Ichiban ) but we had two bottles of wine for the table and two of our party had cocktails . Nobu offers some innovative cocktails , and I think my sister -in-law probably selected the best when she opted for a Fig Martini ( Fig infused vodka with a splash of lychee juice) . Other offerings of interest are a Pineapple Martini , Cucumber Martini and a White Rabbit ( soju and CalPico , garnished with Yamamomo Berries).
These are the dishes we ordered and my ratings for each ( ***** = Excellent , ***= Good , * =Poor)
Fresh Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeno ( *****) Thin slices of yellowtail each decorated with a thin slice of jalapeno, arranged in a flower shape and floating in a ponzu sauce. The tart ponzu juice had ” cooked ” the fish giving it a delightful texture. The jalapenos were very, very small and the waiter told us they were baby jalapenos.
Kumamoto Oysters with Onion Salsa , served on a bed of ice ( ****) I’m not a fan of oysters and I rarely eat them but I couldn’t resist having one . I was glad I did , since it bore no relation to the oysters with lemon juice and Tabasco that one gets at the shore. It tasted of the sea and managed to be soft and slightly chewy at the same time .
Lobster Salad with Spicy Lemon Dressing , served with Salad Greens and Broiled Shitake Mushrooms ( *****) A contrast in textures.
Rock Shrimp Tempura with a Spicy Sauce ( *****). Expertly deep-fried with a thin crisp batter that retained its crunch and was practically greaseless.
Halibut Cheeks with Wasabi- Pepper Sauce ( ***) Good but not as good as it sounded . My choice and I’ll take the blame for this one .
Broiled Black Cod in Miso ( *****) The dish of the evening ! I’d give it ten stars if I could . The cod which had been marinated in miso for three days had a buttery texture which was out of this world and contrasted nicely with the skin. The fish had an unexpected , slightly sweet taste to it which was marvelous.
Salmon Tartare with a thin spicy ponzu sauce ( ****) I usually avoid salmon , since it has a strong taste but in this case , the spicy sauce complemented the fish perfectly and cut the taste.
Sushi Rolls , Two kinds ( *****) The softshell crab sushi was particularly good ; the other wasn’t bad either.
Beef Skewers with AntiCucho Sauce ( ***) Good , but grilled beef is grilled beef.
For dessert , we shared two portions of the following :
Bento Box ( ****) A miniature wooden box with a scoop of green tea ice cream & a slice of warm chocolate souffle cake with shiso syrup and chocolate sauce. The chocolate souffle cake was great , the ice cream not so.
Zen ( ***) described as Green tea mousse , almond sponge cake , chocolate praline crunch , green tea cremoso ( whatever that is ) and adzuki bean. The presentation was unusual ( the dessert was served in a martini glass ) but all I could taste was the green tea.
Overall , the food was very good but , considering the prices , the portions were decidedly small. The service was excellent . Ranks of black clad waiters whisked away our empty plates and the young man who took our order exuded the right mix of friendliness and deference and was very knowledgeable about the restaurant’s offerings .
So … the million dollar question … how does Nobu compare with Morimoto ? Very well , though they are quite different restaurants . Morimoto is more of a dining experience ; the ambience is striking , the presentation of the dishes is superior and the food is more varied , more eclectic . Nobu is understated and the food has a narrower range of flavors , being closer to traditional Japanese cuisine . If I had to choose between the two restaurants , I’d go to Morimoto but if I had to choose a single dish it would be the Broiled Black Cod at Nobu.
One warning : Nobu is primarily a seafood restaurant and there are very few choices for those who don’t eat fish as one of our companion dinners found. She is allergic to fish and had to make do with a beef salad and a couple of beef skewers.
Nobu . 105 Hudson Street in Tribeca .
P.S Both coming and going there was hardly any traffic and we zipped through the Holland Tunnel with nary a stop. What a delight !It’s never happened before and I think it must have been because the sweltering heat ( high of 107 F ) caused many people to stay at home .