At long last sushi master innovator, Matsuhisa Nobu, has made landfall in the OC
When you pull inside the chic yet oh-so quaint Lido Marina Village, it’s hard to believe just yards away is Newport Beach’s throbbing central artery. It’s here, in this bastion of idyllic luxury, that the iconic and innovative sushi giant, Nobu, has made its long-awaited Orange County home.
It’s a Wednesday night, just before sunset, and already the place is humming. Upon entering you are immediately enveloped by the sleek and sexy atmosphere with swaths of rich, warm wood. On the ground level seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis. A quick look around and it’s clear this has already become a favorite perch for locals of every flavor. In the center of this scene is an expansive bar-in-the-round, whipping up signature Nobu creations like the Yuzu Kumquat Cooler and Yamazaki Sidecar. But the real star for libation seekers is out on the spacious harbor side patio, where you will find the first-ever Nobu Grand Cordon Bar. It features a rotating selection of custom craft cocktails created by Nobu bartenders from around the world, with offerings that are innovative and adventurous. My favorite was the Blackberry Blaze, an easy drinking whiskey-based concoction muddled with the aforementioned berries.
Back inside, you take the curved staircase to the main dining room, which is awash with light and airiness. This setting serves as the perfect canvas to highlight the gorgeous view and even more gorgeous fare. I was shown to a table on the deck with a delightful view of the sparkling harbor and the pristine open kitchen presided over by Executive Chef Frank Gorriceta and Executive Sushi Chef Akihisa Kawaii. Between the two of them, they have decades of experience within the Nobu family. They focus on serving up signature dishes, like the simple yet dynamic Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeno, while also incorporating locally inspired fare you won’t find anywhere else.
Once seated, I was immersed in a sushi experience unlike any other. This is not the place for traditional slabs of raw fish dunked in wasabi and soy. To begin, I sample the vibrant edamame dusted with delicate flakes of sea salt and sweetly glazed shishito peppers that are delicious and addictive. Then the meal kicks off with fresh oysters on the half shell and toro tartare. The oysters are sweet, briny and perfectly punctuated with yuzu and cilantro, a nod to Nobu’s Peruvian influence. The toro tartare, a Nobu classic topped with caviar and a dashi wasabi pepper sauce, is unctuous yet delicate and, thankfully, served with a spoon so you can sop up every last drop. If your platter arrives with small green orbs scattered about, don’t overlook them — they are Japanese baby peaches that positively burst with favor.
Next up is a selection of sashimi, but to call it a sashimi platter would be a disservice, for what is placed before you is a true masterpiece. Tiers of treasures make for a brilliant composition, but each element also stands alone as its own tour de force. Delicate slivers of salmon wrapped around nashi pear, topped with microgreens, flower petals, shaved truffle and a drizzle of ponzu are pleasant and intriguing. Next to that is live octopus topped with fresh wasabi relish and chili threads. While not typically an octopus lover, I find this dish tender, refreshing and completely surprising. But the standout from this round, and perhaps of the whole evening, is the red snapper sashimi with dried miso, chives, yuzu and crispy garlic. It’s bright, satisfying and full of interest.
Before heading for the hot items I make a quick detour to the sashimi salad, a Nobu staple that has stood the test of time for good reason and should be considered a can’t miss. I quickly devoured every morsel before it was whisked away to make room for my final savory selections: Black Cod Miso and Prime Filet Toban Yaki. Here the black cod stole the show with its sweet silkiness, though meat lovers could arguably be wooed by the perfectly cooked filet.
If you can manage it, try to save room for dessert, particularly the date cake and the honey pistachio semi freddo, which I enjoyed a few bites of while marveling over the unforgettable experience I knew I’d be reliving for weeks to come.
By Jeralyn Cottam