Before there was Iron Chef Morimoto, there was Masaharu Morimoto who was hired to run the
kitchen of Nobu restaurant in New York. And before there was Masaharu Morimoto there was
Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, the 2nd son of a lumber merchant who incorporated foreign flavors
into traditional Japanese cuisine. Chef Nobu’s restaurant empire now spans from Tokyo to
London with more than a dozen locations scattered between.
The “Best” Japanese Food
We were motivated to try Nobu Waikiki during our brief vacation not because sis-in-law said it
served the best Japanese food she’s tried but because my brother stated that Nobu in New York
had the best Japanese food he’s tried. Not that we don’t trust sis-in-law’s palate but in one
week, she had the “best” chicken dish and the “best” fish dish at the Halekulani. Since there
must be all of 1,568,342 chicken and fish dishes in the world and that she had the “best” in a
period of one week and that Nobu Waikiki is located in the Waikiki Parc Hotel which is the
Halekulani’s sister hotel, we opted for a 2nd opinion. My brother’s confirmation seconded our
A Rocky Start
I felt the initial storm surge when we arrived for our 6pm dinner and the hostess couldn’t find
our reservation which was secured two weeks earlier. Especially when the Mrs. was asked if the
person who called made the reservation under an alternate name – No, it was the Mrs. who
made the call. Rule Number One; Never upset the Mrs. because “ain’t no one happy unless the
Mrs. is happy”.
Luckily our actual “reservation” was early enough that there were tables open for couples.
Whew! Our server was also very attentive and competent which calmed the seas for smooth
We started with the Shishito Peppers which were flashed fried and served with salt, lemon and a
sweet miso sauce. They were just cooked and had flavors of bell peppers, okra and blanched
green beans. Very good with the Prosecco!
Then came the hard part, deciding what to order. Nobu’s menu is split into Appetizers, Cold
Selections, Hot Selections and Sushi/Sashimi. They are served family style and are meant to serve
2 to3 diners like tapas plates. We finally decided on the Omakase (chef’s selection, 4 cold, 2 hot
and dessert for $75 per person). I couldn’t resist trying the Monkfish Pate’ with Caviar so that
was served before our Omakase selections. The Pate was basically steamed anko liver served on a
miso based sauce with a wild mountain peach as a palate cleanser. It had the consistency of firm
tofu with a rich fish flavor. The Mrs. thought it resembled the fatty part of canned salmon. Oh
Cold Selections for the Indecisive
The chef’s selection started with the Toro or fatty tuna served over a mustard and shoyu sauce
with a dollop of caviar. The toro was as fatty as I’ve seen, more white than pink though the
mustard shoyu sauce did overwhelm the subtle flavor of the toro. The mountain peach must be
a trademark of Nobu since it also graced this dish. Because it tasted like a cross between an ume
and fresh peach, it did refresh the palate as promised.
We were then served Onaga (red Hawaiian snapper) sashimi with black salt, Peruvian pepper and
lemon juice. The lemon juice and pepper nicely complimented the rich slices of fish. Finally, we
had Nobu’s Sashimi Salad, several slices of tataki (seared) tuna with Mesclun greens with
Matsuhisa dressing. The dressing was a nice blend of daikon oroshi, grated onion and sesame oil.
Since we were dining at Nobu’s, I decided to splurge and tried several of Chef Nobu’s exclusive
sake. Produced by Hokusetsu in Sado, several versions are produced exclusively for Chef Nobu. I
had the Junmai (semi-dry and very good with various dishes), Dai-Ginjo (fragrant but better
with lighter dishes) and Y35 (expensive, but very fragrant with exquisite balance). If you choose
to dine at Nobu, I would recommend the Junmai as it pairs with a wider variety of dishes…
though the Y35 was VERY GOOD.
Hot Selections for the Indecisive
Next up was the Squid Pasta with Light Garlic Sauce. Finely scored thick rings of squid (to
resemble pasta) cooked with long beans and shiitake mushrooms in a light garlic scented broth
spiced with a touch of shichimi. All this needed was actual linguini and I would have been
singing an aria. Okay, maybe just humming.
The final hot dish was the Rock Shrimp Tempura with Creamy Spicy Sauce. Very lightly breaded
rock shrimp flash fried then tossed in a mayo based dressing – a little like Chinese prawns with
candied walnuts except that dressing had a hint of spice (I was already on the Y35 though the
Junmai would have been the sake of choice).
Dinner ended with a selection of five nigiri sushi – maguro, hamachi, salmon, onaga and shrimp.
The molten chocolate cake with green tea ice cream probably impressed the Mrs. the most (of
course, her motto is “life is short, eat dessert first)”. The molten cake had a very thin crust with
that warm chocolate ooze contained within.
What’s the Damage?
I don’t believe that any of Chef Nobu’s restaurants are cheap. Remember that they spawned the
future Iron Chef. Dinner alone was about $200 for two (without alcohol). It was very good
though it didn’t reach the level of food epiphany. In all fairness I was raised on Japanese fusion
cuisine (Hawaii immigrants did fuse Spam, Vienna Sausage and corned beef into their diets
before Regional Hawaii Cuisine was a buzzword), so it does take a lot to reach Japanese cuisine
nirvana for me personally. There were several other dishes not served with the Omakase
selections that I would have liked to try but we were already in the red zone, cost wise. And
though I would go back (if someone else was picking up the tab), Nobu Waikiki is the type of
restaurant that’s reserved just for very special occasions. On my budget at least.
Waikiki Parc Hotel
2233 Helumoa Road
Honolulu, Hawaii 96815
Before There Was Iron Chef Japanese