Matsuhisa. It's one of those names that can stand on its own. Like Prince, Sting and Madonna, there's Matsuhisa. Unlike Prince, Sting and Madonna, you can also call Matsuhisa with one other word - his first name, Nobu. It's a name, it's a restaurant, it's an empire.
Nobuyuki Matsuhisa was born and raised in Japan where he worked in a sushi bar in Tokyo, then spent time in Peru, Argentina and Alaska before settling in Los Angeles, and opening his first namesake restaurant in 1987, Matsuhisa. The Nobu empire now consists of 20 restaurants across the globe. And it's taken me exactly 28 years to finally try the original Matsuhisa.
My dad took me for my birthday (no need for wishes, it was a while ago as it took us a while to schedule) and he was equally excited and curious, never haven dined at Matsuhisa either. We walked in slowly as people were gathered and congregating in every available space, and believe me there wasn't much available space. The restaurant was full the entire evening, on a Tuesday night, with a crowd waiting to sit the entire time.
The tables are smacked right next to each other in the dimly lit packed room, with servers nearly sprinting around the buzzing dining room. A man in a striped track suit took our order and ran off to put it in. I assume he was a waiter as food did follow. We knew we wanted the omakase tasting menu, but were surprised to see the menu list this chef's tasting menu ever so briefly with a simple listing of 3 prices - $100, $150 and $200. All menus were 8 courses, but the higher the price, the higher the quality ingredients we'd receive, ie., the $200 menu included freshly flown in Kobe, whereas the $100 might include flank steak. It took us 28 years to get here, we went kobe.
My stream of consciousness while sitting in the Matsuhisa dining room went something like this: Wow, it's crowded. Everyone knows each other. Studios. Why are there children here? Are those fake cut out shadows on the wall? Surely Matsuhisa can afford a remodel. Wonder if he ever comes here anymore? These thoughts were interrupted when a gentleman sat next to my dad, and by next to, I mean, grazing elbows with. I look bold eyed at our new dining guest to discover that Nobu himself was sitting beside us, or practically with us.
It wasn't long until Nobu joined our conversation, started pouring soy sauce for us and answering my questions on fish origins with the current plate on our table. Answer: Santa Barbara, Spain, Italy. Spain and Italy threw me, but he goes to the best places he can, wherever that may be. He was friendly, humble and the type of guy you would enjoy eating a meal with. He didn't stay long, but having him not only in the restaurant, but at our table during 1 of the 2 months he's in LA was a rare treat.
My dad and I dug into our food with renewed vigor, knowing the iconic chef behind the sushi institution was indeed in the house. Dishes included a veggie hand roll with no rice or fish served in a cylinder glass to hold it in place while white fish with caviar and yuzu came in a martini glass and was devoured in seconds. We'd see a lot of yuzu throughout the night, lending a delicate citrus touch to the fish.
The sashimi round was a sight to behold with Nobu's signature jalapeno yellowtail, along with halibut cilantro, goldeneye snapper and a warm baby conch with escargot. It was as good as it looks.
The uber fresh fish continued with a sashimi salad with all the heavy hitters like jumbo clam, scallop and salmon and a light maui onion soy dressing. When the quality of the ingredients is this high, little manipulation is needed. Nobu just finds subtle tweaks to further enhance the fish without overpowering anything.
Chilean sea bass kicked off the warm, cooked courses and it went big with a large slab of seared foie gras on top and a slightly sweet sauce that pulled everything together perfectly.
Then the melt in your mouth wagyu beef arrived, requiring minimal chewing effort, like most of the fish. It nearly dissolved in my mouth and the miso ancho sauce added subtle enhancements, along with the quinoa mushroom risotto with truffle oil.
The soba noodle course was a bit of a head scratcher, but it didn't stop me from finishing the bowl, and I was completely full at this point.
Head scratching continued through dessert and the biggest shaved ice structure I had ever seen. It was accompanied by a fabulous passion fruit sauce that I was nearly just spooning directly into my mouth. A rice pudding with puffed wheat was a nice play on textures and left us fully satiated.
It's hard to top dining at Matsuhisa WITH Masuhisa. While the food isn't inexpensive and the dining room doesn't reflect the amount you'll pay for dinner, the quality of ingredients is top notch and you will receive a memorable meal...though I can't guarantee you'll get to dine with Nobu himself.
129 N. La Cienega, Beverly Hills