By Tracy Nieporent
Nobu Matsuhisa’s vision to use the ingredients of Japanese cuisine, along with an imaginative use of Western and South American flavors, started a culinary revolution.
Growing up in New York City in the 1960s, Chinese food—not Japanese—was the most prominent Asian cuisine. Trips to Chinatown were fun, but, in truth, you could enjoy good Chinese food almost anywhere in the city. Japanese food was mostly relegated to an afterthought, and sushi didn’t have wide appeal at that time. In the following decades, many more Japanese restaurants began to open, but with a fairly limited range—tempura and teriyaki dishes tended to be the featured dishes.
Everything changed with the arrival of Nobu New York City in 1994. Nobu Matsuhisa’s vision to use the ingredients of Japanese cuisine, along with an imaginative use of Western and South American flavors, started a culinary revolution. Amazing dishes like black cod with miso, yellowtail with jalapeño, tiradito, new-style sashimi, sashimi salad, and many others captivated New York City diners. The flavors were bold and vibrant, and each dish was plated like a work of art. The clarity came from the simplicity of using the finest ingredients served with heart—or, as Nobu says, kokoro.
This wonderful, inventive cuisine evolved from Nobu’s creative life experience and international travels. Listening to the guests was also part of this culinary renaissance. “New-style sashimi” was created in response to a diner who wouldn’t eat raw fish. Nobu topped the raw fish with ginger spears and sesame seeds, and drizzled it with ponzu. He then took sesame oil together with heated olive oil and poured it briefly over the fish. A wonderful cavalcade of flavors came together. The guest tried a mouthful and then eagerly gobbled up the entire dish. It is certainly one of the most popular dishes on the Nobu menu, and a tribute to a great chef’s ingenuity.
Through the years, virtually every celebrity you can think of has dined at Nobu. But, really, the foundation of the restaurant’s success, both here in New York City and in other places, is that the food, décor, service, and total experience have captivated the public at large. There can be no greater compliment. Going to Nobu is a wonderful experience that is eagerly anticipated because, quite simply, it makes people feel good. Thomas Keller, the revered chef and owner of the French Laundry and Per Se, sums it up best when he says, “Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s dishes are not just nourishment for the body—they are a delight to the senses, and a soothing balm to the spirit.”