Jim was totally sold and wants to take his mom here next time she’s in town — it’s his new favorite. Me? I’d love to go back and eat more, much more, but it’s not an instant favorite. You’re wondering why this is not getting 4 1/2 or 5 stars, right?
First, there’s the issue of service. The servers (waiters, runners, bussers) seem decently educated about the food, but our cute, flirtatious waiter vanished for long periods once the restaurant started filling up. It took some assertiveness to order a bottle of wine (begging a runner, and then another waiter) and then to get the chilled white regularly poured as we needed it — lots of body language required, and that creates tension rather than the chance to relax with a great dinner. There are a lot of server bodies around, but if your table’s designated waiter is off somewhere, nobody seems ready to assume responsibility for keeping you happy.
And then there’s the knotty question of the food. If I were tasting these dishes at a local restaurant (say, the Solana Beach Nobu) I’d go crazy praising them — especially if we could time travel back to the era when Nobu-san opened Matsuhisa in L.A. and introduced his new creations. But just like the black cod, today’s chain Nobu doesn’t feature the original leap of creativity but merely re-creates it for the moneyed masses. You can eat the same dishes at another Nobu on your next business trip to Melbourne or Abu Dhabi. Some soulfulness, some life force, has leaked out with the globalization. Most of the food is fabulous, and chef de cuisine David Mead (who worked at the New York Nobu) is obviously thoroughly competent. I bought the Nobu Cookbook for research, and if I could afford it, I’d love to go back and pick and choose my way through a grazing dinner of dishes with the most intriguing-sounding recipes (those mentioned in “pick hits” that I had to sacrifice for the omakase). And yet, and yet. Our new Nobu looks like a chain, and it tastes like an amazing chain, and it costs, oy!, like a top New York chef inventing his brilliant dishes in front of you — but that’s not what you’re getting — you’re getting a chain.
for sushi (excellent)
for the dinner menu (good)
Hard Rock Hotel, 207 Fifth Avenue, Gaslamp, 619-814-4124, 866-751-7625, hardrockhotelsd.com/dining-&-nightlife/nobu.
HOURS: Dinner: Monday–Thursday 5:30–10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 11:30 p.m., Sunday until 10:00 p.m.
PRICES: Soups, sushi, sashimi, tempura, $3-$15; skewers and tobanyaki (sizzling platters), $7-$29; brick-oven dishes, $11-$36; “Nobu special” cold dishes, “New Style” sashimi (lightly cooked), tiradito, tartares with caviar, $12-$30; salads, $6-$38; main dishes, $30-$36; “Nobu special” hot dishes, $9-$39. Sushi, sashimi, and tempura dinners, $32-$54; Omakase dinners, $90 and $120 per person. “Market price” items (e.g., Baja pink abalone, Wagyu beef) at higher prices.
CUISINE AND BEVERAGES: Modern Japanese/Peruvian/North American fusion cuisine and sushi on a four-page menu of about 100 items. Cocktails, sakes, wines, beers, most at steep prices, with a sufficient assortment of (pricey) wine by the glass.
PICK HITS: Miso asari soup (with clams); toro tartare with caviar; black cod with miso (signature dish); Wagyu beef; anything with uni (sea urchin). Also consider monkfish, uni tempura, lobster dishes, tofu tobanyaki (sizzle platter).
NEED TO KNOW: Reservations necessary for dining room (call a few days ahead for prime time), not accepted for sushi bar. Valet parking at hotel entrance on Embarcadero side of restaurant, $15-$20 after validation. Over 40 ovo-vegetarian grazing dishes (most very small), at least 20 vegan bites. (Note: tempura batter contains egg.)