As Brandon and I made our way down to Beverly Hills from Ventura, my birthday dinner seemed to be well anticipated. We’d eaten together years ago in Malibu at Nobu, and to say the least, that was an unforgettable meal and dinner, but Matsuhisa was even more than I remembered Nobu to be. Both restaurants having differing charm and mastery, Matsuhisa makes my Japanese heritage sing out very loud. The dishes and plates remind me of my Bachan’s kitchen. The old, darker, shady lit tables are situated about two inches away from one another. If you don’t like small confines, this probably isn’t the place for you, but if you want real Japanese precision and flavors with Peruvian interest, you’re in the right place.
Matsuhisa is situated on a darker length of La Cienega and Wilshire with a small sign and nothing too flashy. It’s in the presence of Fogo de Chão and other well-to-do eateries of the Beverly Hills nature. As you valet, you can’t help but notice the plethora of high-end driving utensils indicative of the restaurant’s prestigious location. But as you walk in, the prestige dissipates to a comfortable hum of all of the following type of people: from the hipster, famous, family, business and even those seemingly “fresh off the boat,” joining themselves for some of the freshest fish and flavorful tried and true dishes that Nobu has to offer. Matsuhisa is Nobu Matsuhisa’s first U.S. restaurant and still stands in all its glory from the late 80’s. If you’re picturing a lot of modern anything, then you’ll be mistaken. It’s quaint, meant for business and that business is devising, developing and delivering this man and his amazing accomplices who put together this brilliant food on a daily basis.
At our 8 p.m. reservation we were seated quickly and efficiently at a most miniscule table, which is situated about two inches from the other two two-top tables that adjoin us. Seeing as the restaurant was completely full, there wasn’t much room for negotiation. A very hospitable and knowledgeable waiter greeted us as we perused the menu looking for favorites and new ideas to try. We decided to order a single omakase to split between the two of us, as well as a multitude of single dishes off the menu to accommodate a variety of options listed.
Omakase is the Japanese phrase for “I’ll leave it to you.” This allows the chefs to pick their freshest or most favorable dishes of the season for each tasting. I love the idea of omakase because it takes the choice out and excites the palate with an interesting surprise, course after course. At Matsuhisa, we knew that some signature dishes would be provided to us, which we openly welcomed. Our omakase consisted of:
Mixed Vegetable Hand Roll with Miso Dressing
This interesting dish was not your traditional hand roll because of the distinct absence of rice. The fresh avocado, sprouts, cucumber and carrots dipped in a light miso dressing and rolled in the freshest, crisp and most flavorful piece of nori made for a memorable and delicious first course.
Toro Tartar with Caviar
I know that bluefin tuna is overfished, but it’s so delicious. The lusciousness of this tuna is fantastic and rivals the flavors of other conventional fish in the sea. This was a small dish packed with flavor from the pungent wasabi and soy that just cut through the fatty richness of the toro. I love the plating of this dish; it was so ice cold and refreshing because of its placement in shaved ice.
Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeno Ponzu
This is a classic Nobu dish. The delicate fish was in a light ponzu with dynamically bright yuzu flavor. Extremely enjoyable.
Baby spinach piled up with a spicy jalapeno dressing and fresh pieces of seared tuna, salmon belly and scallops. The scallops were melt-in-your-mouth fresh and everything on the plate was simple, yet delicious. The plate wasn’t overly exciting, but the fish was sliced perfectly and tasted amazing.
Tempura Soft Shell Crab with Cactus Salsa
Genius. Nobu Now, the cookbook, has this recipe and I humbly appeal to you to go buy the book and make it, or simply go to Matsuhisa and eat it, because it’s that delicious. Brandon doesn’t normally like cactus and I don’t think a lot of people can get over the slime factor, but I’m used to it. I’ve been eating cactus my whole life, but definitely not like this. The Yuzu (Japanese citrus) is a key element in this amazingly simple, but delicious salsa and the soft shell crab is perfectly crispy with just the right crunch. The mild spice from the shisito pepper is a lovely addition to this fantastic dish.
Miso Black Cod
You really can’t get any more traditional Nobu than Miso Black Cod and you don’t need to because it’s just good. I love black cod; it’s flaky, meaty and succulent and this dish was no exception. Just a piece of fish on a plate with a couple small dots of miso sauce, then gone in a flash.
You can’t say anything bad about it, but it wasn’t an over-the-top elaboration, just good soup before the sushi and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
Nigiri style sushi presented with Toro, halibut, squid, king crab and fresh water eel. After all the food I’d already eaten, I was very happy to have some sushi rice at the closing of the meal. This sushi was all very fresh. The only one we decided we didn’t really enjoy was the squid because it’s such a strange texture and trying to chew its strangeness is always a weird ride for me.
So since we shared these dishes, we also ordered other things off the menu, which included:
Sweet Potato Tempura
I love sweet potato. And there is something about Nobu tempura sauce that’s just so wonderful. Its ginger salty sweetness is just perfectly complimentary to the lightly fried and wonderfully crisp sweet potatoes.
Golden Eye Snapper with Dry Miso
If you look up a picture of golden eye snapper it looks like a gold fish on steroids; however, it definitely doesn’t taste like what I imagine that would taste like, but then again, most delicious fish are hideous anyway. I’d have to say this was my favorite dish of the evening. The snapper was so delicate and fresh that you could hardly even notice it was fish in the first place. These are the kind of dishes people need to eat when first introduced to sashimi; I’m sure they’d change a million minds. Dry miso adds a flavorful crunch of salty texture to the very delicate fish flesh and the addition of oil and lemon creates an impeccable combination of flavors.
Simple, clean, delicious albacore with smoky dark soy sauce, garlic and fresh chives—such a beautiful plate with crisp refreshing flavors.
Mussels with Spicy Garlic Sauce
I really enjoyed these mussels. The addition of small asparagus spears gave nice contrasting texture to the mussels. The sauce was light and complimented the dish well.
Chilean Sea Bass with Vegetable Umami Sauce
Brandon and I love Chilean Sea Bass. This was a very well-prepared piece of fish; just cooked on one side for optimal opaque tender flesh. The umami vegetable sauce was described as about 20 different minced vegetables that gave the fish a very different flavor and a little bit of texture. The red onion accompaniment was very Peruvian in flavor and well designed to accent the tender pieces of fish.
King Crab Tempura with Sweet Chile Vinegar Sauce
King Crab is just one of my favorite things to eat, especially if it’s already shelled and ready to eat. I’ve had this king crab at Nobu Malibu and it was just as delectable as I remember it to be. The sauce is wonderful and the heat from the thinly sliced chiles makes each bite increasingly spicy.
Lastly, dessert: banana bread pudding with custard ice cream. I don’t really like banana, but after all that other food I took a couple of bites of ice cream and handed it over to Brandon. The bread pudding was deliciously crafted, moist and full of banana.
Overall, I had one of the best meals of my life. I loved the simple well-to-do flavors and clean execution that Matsuhisa’s been dishing out over the last couple of decades. Nobu and all the people at his fine establishments are doing something very right and I’m grateful and astounded by the amazing gifts these chefs and everyone else are able to produce and have others enjoy.
I really couldn’t have imagined a more perfect meal for my 27th birthday celebration. I also couldn’t thank my amazing boyfriend enough for making me feel so special on that day and every day. He knows me oh so well, as seen with this incredible choice of restaurant. Great choice Bistecca! Seriously though, it couldn’t have been any better. I want to thank all my friends and family for their amazing heartwarming messages and love for me on my birthday. I love you all so much and life wouldn’t be the same without you all.
Thank you everyone for sharing in this very special evening with me.