Recycling is always a good thing, and when you can recycle a chain pancake house into a first-rate sushi restaurant, we’re all winners. Nobu’s is nearly always our first thought when someone says sushi, and when we visit, it’s the sushi that sucks us in, pulling our attention away from nearly everything else on the menu. We’re almost powerless to resist.
If Indian food is as much about aroma as taste, Japanese food is as much about both looks and texture as taste. So a platter of various kinds of sushi and sashimi (which is raw fish or shellfish minus the rice) is, when correctly done, a work of art before any of it hits the mouth. It’s worth sitting at the counter to watch chef-owner Nobu Kidera in action, slicing and dicing and assembling the platters until they look ready to frame and hang.
And then there’s the rich beefy look of something like toro, tuna that’s very tender and so mild in the mouth, we’ve heard people say, "Are you sure this is fish?" Salmon roe or ikura, the large red-orange caviar, is far stronger in flavor, and the burst of each egg in the mouth brings yet more intensity to the tongue. Not all sushi, of course, is raw. Unagi, or eel, dark with a teriyaki-like sauce, arrives cooked, and so do shrimp and octopus, as well as an egg sushi called tamago, which is basically a piece of omelet. We’ve had all this, and more at Nobu, like the strongly fish-tasting yellowtail, or hamachi, and silvery mackerel, called saba, both particular favorites. These days, the sushi may come with white ginger, rather than the more usual pink. It’s lighter in flavor. Very nice.
We’re not so keen on the multi-piece rolls, not from any deep philosophical reason but only because they interfere with our bit-of-this-bit-of-that propensities. Still, Nobu does them well, things like a spider roll, which features tempura-battered and fried soft-shell crab pieces. Our only quibble on a recent visit was that the salmon-skin sushi and hand roll both arrived with the pieces of skin lacking sufficient crispness. On the other hand, our pal the Old China Hand (who can double as the Old Japan Hand when necessary) had asked if Nobu could make a tuna tataki, which is lightly seared tuna. Nobu served it up on greens, dressed with a little soy-based vinaigrette, dazzlingly tasty. And another friend of ours turned us on to usuzukuri, thin slices of white flounder, dressed with a ponzu sauce, lightly acidic but not overriding the fish. It’s found on the appetizer menu. And somehow, some of the marinated seaweed salad always finds its salty, crunchy, chewy way onto our table or our places at the counter.
For those who love fish but can’t handle it raw, there are other excellent options. Grilled fish, either whole, like a mackerel or a piece of salmon, or for those who love to eat with their hands, jaws. No, no, not the shark. We’re talking the jaws of a good sized fish like a salmon or yellowtail. It includes the rich, succulent cheek meat, lots of crispy bits, and is nothing short of addictive. Maybe not the best bet for dinner with the boss, or a first date, but even if it means sneaking out for a solo meal, try this if you’re a fish lover.
8643 Olive Blvd., University City
Lunch Tues.-Fri., Dinner Tues.-Sun.
Credit cards: All major
Wheelchair access: Poor