Tuesday, January 18, 2022 Jan 18, 2022
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Food and Drink

The Nobu Way

The sushi is wonderful but first you’ll get a lecture on how to eat it.
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The Nobu Way

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Does anything make a city seem more small-town than when it gets itself in a lather over a celebrity? In June, Dallas became Mayfield, U.S.A., when none other than co-owner Robert “Bobby” De Niro came to the opening of this pricey new Asian restaurant at the Hotel Crescent Court. Big stories in the daily newspaper! On the local TV news, too!

The place makes the unspoken promise that you’ll spy a famous person (not just here in Dallas but at its dozen or so branches, too). It’s like this decade’s version of Hard Rock Cafe. Some celebs do eat there; Howard Stern regularly name drops the original location in New York on his morning radio show. So maybe it does serve as a sushi safe house for celebs. They buy Louis Vuitton luggage and Vacheron Constantin watches, so why not name-brand sushi, too?

But where does that leave the folks who buy their watches from Fossil and get their suitcases on sale at Dillard’s? Pilgrim, meet omakase, a Japanese word that means “trusting.” At Nobu, omakase is a pre-fab dinner, a Happy Meal purportedly selected especially for you by the chef. It comes in two versions, $100 or $125, and if one person at the table gets it, everyone at the table must get it. So sayeth Nobu.

At Nobu, they seem much, much smarter than the rest of us. Surprising, because they all look so young, despite the severe black. Their lectures on what to eat and in what order are almost funny, maybe because they’re delivered with such zeal. They’re not Scientologists, are they? Be careful: even if you’ve had sushi, you’ll end up feeling like they know something you don’t.

[inline_image id=”1″ align=”” crop=””]Say this for the omakase route: it beats having to wade through the menu of more than 200 items, many in the “small plate” mode. On subsequent visits, as people become more schooled in the Nobu Way, they seem more inclined to pick and choose.

Despite the claims of personalization, omakase seemed to be one-size-fits-all. The $100 version incorporates menu items (the $125 is off-menu), and no matter who ordered it, he or she received yellowtail tartar, washu steak, Nobu’s signature black cod with miso, sushi, and dessert in a bento box. It was all very good, oozing finesse and careful composition.

The yellowtail tartar had been molded exactingly into a cylinder and topped with a bouquet of caviar. The washu steak, our domestic version of Wagyu, was paraded to the table in a sizzling stone pan, just like fajitas. But this had a function: the knob of meat, cut into slices, arrived rare; the longer it sat in the pan, the more it cooked. Diners could scarf it while still red and good, or they could let it sit there until it reached an uncivilized medium-well.

Those who don’t get the omakase often go for the whole fish. Nobu coats it in tempura batter and tosses in some tempura vegetables—asparagus, mushrooms, pumpkin, whatever. Dipping sauces, hot, sweet, and salty, make it feel fun. This is a popular dish to split.

Part of the lecture involves the way Nobu organizes its menu. According to the pixies in black, you will start with cold dishes, proceed to hot, and only then can you eat sushi. “It’s better for your stomach,” said one, making circles over hers with her hand.

Whenever you decide to eat it, the sushi is terrific: medallions of fish that drape over the rice like fabric. Sometimes a segment of skin remains, so thin that it looks like the fish has been painted with silver leaf. Founding chef Nobu Matsuhisa is especially proud of what he calls new-style sashimi, in which he browns the edges of raw fish with hot oil. The tuna tempura roll was also luscious, with its red center and meaty, juicy edge.

[inline_image id=”2″ align=”” crop=””]It’s worth checking out Matsuhisa’s Peruvian influence. Look for items served in the “anti-cucho Peruvian style,” which boils down to “skewers served with sauce.” Beef, chicken, or salmon—all were gentle-tender, with red and yellow sauces that were probably intended to be wry, though certainly spicy, spins on mustard and ketchup.

Nobu might be the only Asian restaurant with decent desserts. The kitchen revived lava cake by serving it with green tea ice cream, and its tempura chocolate balls with coconut ice cream were irresistible fritters with liquid chocolate centers, none too sweet. Nobu also has a menu of cocktails with star fruit and lychees and other exotics that are sure to inspire knockoffs.

In a weird way, Nobu is as much about real estate as food. It’s about occupying a seat in a well-appointed place where the walls are lined with lava rock and birch branches, where someone had to install the wood slats in the floor one at a time. You’re essentially paying rent. Reservations remain hot during peak times, but you don’t need one to sit at the sushi counter, and if you get there before 7 p.m., there’s no wait. We still got some smarts here, don’t we? 400 Crescent Ct. 214-252-7000. $$$.

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