THE RESTAURANT YOU'RE about to experience is, in a word, exquisite. From the fantastically fresh fish and the opulent design to the superb harbor views and the outstanding service, Nobu has set sights high for incomparable sushi in Newport Beach.
The only O.C. outpost of Nobu Matsuhisa-san’s international faction of hip establishments is nestled in Lido Marina Village—a two-story masterpiece, with 180-degree vistas of sailboats and Duffys gliding through the water. The build-out is magnificent, with an open-air feeling and eye candy everywhere. You’ll find a sprawling cocktail lounge on the lower level, with a patio bar bearing the moniker Grand Cordon, highlighting elitist cocktails exclusive to the space. The spectacular spiral staircase takes you to the second floor, where you’ll find a fab sushi bar and remarkable dining in its most literal form.
Matsuhisa has a humble story. The man credited with reinventing Japanese cuisine in the United States was born in Japan, and at 24 years old he debuted his first restaurant, with a Peruvian partner, paving the way for his style of fusion to ignite gastronomes’ palates. He took his method to Alaska and opened an eatery, which was immediately destroyed by a fire, almost ending his rise to fame. In 1987, he created his first signature spot, Matsuhisa, in Beverly Hills—and the rest is history. With 47 restaurants and six hotels worldwide, the Nobu empire spans 22 countries. And, of course, there’s O.C.
If you’re visiting for dinner, step in early afternoon to soak up the sun. Stop at the Grand Cordon Bar and sip a Sol Amigo, an award-winning drink from Nobu’s mixologists, comprised of Casamigos Reposado Tequila, Maraschino Liqueur, lime and agave, a floating island of whipped egg white, a splash of grapefruit juice and a drop of orange bitters. It’s a perfect start to the night.
Japanese and Peruvian flavors syndicate on the hot and cold menu, modestly designating the fish, meat or vegetable and the simple prep. But the dishes are anything but simple—rather, each one is complex. The sake selection follows suit. It’s an impressive list complete with the YK35, an unfiltered and rare find. Order a masu, the wooden box that overflows with the spirit, for good fortune, and plan your meal. There are so many don’t-miss offerings.
Enliven your senses with the baby artichoke salad to start, a mélange of raw shaved Jerusalem artichokes combined with frizzled leeks and dressed with yuzu juice and white truffle oil—a crunchy, rich conundrum of flavors. Continue with the shima aji with spicy garlic ponzu—slices of premium fish in a garlicky vinegar soy sauce and complemented by nameko mushrooms to cut through the unctuous fish.
Do not overlook the bigeye and bluefin toro tartare set in wasabi soy. With osetra caviar to gild the lily, you’ll want to dig your spoon in to get a taste that touches every sense. The kumomo berry, a tiny Japanese peach, cleanses the palate between the few bites that you’ll never want to end. The salmon nashi, exclusive to Newport, is mind-blowing too: Atlantic salmon encasing Japanese pear, with dried miso crumbles for a briny crunch and garnished with edible flowers—the refreshing pear offsets the oily fish.
Experience an explosion of tastes with the king crab tempura, lightly battered and set atop julienned red onion, hot serranos and a sweet rice wine vinegar sauce. And then there’s the chef’s signature black cod miso—so very Nobu. Newport’s presentation offers his traditional mark: miso-marinated black Alaskan cod, insanely caramelized and finished with a fried shiso leaf and pickled ginger root, best eaten as a palate cleanser—when you lick the plate clean.
There is a pièce de résistance: the off-menu Japanese wagyu. A5 beef, the finest grade, from Kyushu, Japan, is offered in thick slices next to a hot rock for tableside cooking. A medley of sauces—anticucho, wasabi pepper, pomegranate teriyaki and flake salt—are set nearby. The beef is buttery. The preparation is interactive. And the taste? Heaven.
Although you’ll never want the night to end, sip hot tea from the notable menu (the restaurant uses the Ikaati brand) and order date cake (it’s like sticky toffee pudding) for dessert—there’s nothing Japanese about it, but it’s a winner. Then begin to think about your next trip to Nobu Newport Beach.
NOBU NEWPORT BEACH
3450 Via Oporto, Ste. 101, 949.429.4440
Nobu Classic, $5-$72; Nobu Now, $10-$78; sushi and sashimi (two-piece minimum, price per piece), $5-$25; sides, $5-$15; multicourse tasting menus, $125-$175; desserts, $14-$15
Lunch Sat.-Sun., 11:30am-3pm; dinner Sun.-Thu., 5:30-10pm and Fri.-Sat., 5:30-11pm