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Mango-passion fruitcake


Everything's Zen

By Nevin Martell

Photography by Greg Powers


Nobu finally arrives in DC’s West End and reminds us why timeless food is magic.

PERCHED IN THE District’s West End neighborhood, Nobu has an understated facade that belies its star status. It’s the latest outpost in a globe-spanning restaurant empire that began in New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood more than 20 years ago and now boasts locations in such far-flung spots as Budapest, Hungary; Milan; and Mexico City. Founding chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa—known simply as Nobu—won’t be in residence, so executive chef Eudy Cruz is in charge of the exceptional kitchen, along with executive sushi chef Sung Cho.

The svelte space emphasizes straight lines, symmetry and sharp corners. Square and rectangular light boxes that seem to hover by the ceiling add a sepia tone, which complements a color scheme heavy on rich creams, inviting browns and wheat-colored woods. A service staff dressed mostly in black smoothly zips through the 11,000-square-foot, 250-seat (12 at the sushi bar, 14 at the cocktail bar) space.

The beverage team aims to have the largest Japanese whiskey selection in the area. As soon as their allotment arrives, they will be barrel-aging Kikori, a Japanese rice whiskey. Alongside the usual suspects—Kirin, Sapporo and Asahi—the beer list features some lesser-known labels from Japan’s craft beer scene, including Iwate Kura’s mildly herbaceous Sansho ale and Oze No Yukidoke’s IPA. The cocktail list is short, highlighted by the house’s signature cocktail, 25th & M, a play on a New York sour with muddled dill and orange, reposado tequila and a cabernet float.  

Meals begin with a cleansing hand towel to create a symbolic tabula rasa. The restaurant’s opening menu is packed with classics and proven favorites from other locations, though the team plans to add items unique to DC over time. There are no extraneous ingredients in these dishes. The cooking team prizes simplicity, prime ingredients and a refreshing directness.

Nobu’s sleek dining room in the West End neighborhood

Begin with an array of cold plates. Hamachi—dressed with cilantro and slender serrano pepper slices—hides an ebullient garlic puree. Your tongue tingles afterward, but sweetness sallies in to soothe, courtesy of tiny pickled baby peaches. Slender strips of salmon are kissed with truffle oil for a hint of extravagance. And toro tartare dressed with gold leaf benefits from a wasabi wallop hiding in the surrounding sauce.

On the hot side, dishes are equally entrancing. Ever-so-delicate miso-lavished black cod—Nobu’s most iconic preparation—comes topped with crunchy phyllo strands and arrives on a bibb lettuce leaf. Eat it like a taco while savoring the deep umami tones. Chilean sea bass gets those deep fifth-taste notes, thanks to a marination in vegetable compote, while aji amarillo adds a pinch of pep.

Rectangles of well-marbled, slightly seared wagyu are arrayed like a Mayan headdress. Roll up the slices around the other components decorating the plate (garlic, scallions and spicy radish) to create a sublime bite, the unctuous richness of the beef cut by the fresh punch of the accompaniments. The braised short rib, which has more layers than a Southern biscuit, slips apart at the barest nudge of the fork. Dressed with miso and red wine, it’s a substantial and satiating preparation. Kanpyō root from a Japanese gourd is wrapped around the bones extending from grilled lamb chops dressed with a fetching rosemary-miso sauce. Forgo the ceremony; grab these lollipops by their sticks and dig in.

Save space for sushi. The product used here is top grade. Go omakase and let the chef choose a selection of nigiri, sashimi and rolls based on what’s best in the case and your personal preferences.

Nobu—the chef and the restaurant group—prize consistency, so expect the experience here to showcase the culinary excellence that has become their hallmark. There is a timeless quality to this food. Times change, but Nobu never goes out of style.  

Bigeye and bluefin toro tartare with caviar

2501 M St. NW, 202.871.6565
Shared plates, $9-$45; entrees, $38-$46; sushi, sashimi and nigiri, $5-$19; desserts, $12-$16
Mon.-Sat., 5-10pm

Sweet Surrender
Desserts are as exquisitely and exactingly rendered as the savory courses. A fluffy white cloud holds the vibrant flavors of mango and passion, accompanied by a palate-tingling quenelle of yuzu sorbet. Meanwhile, smooth panna cotta is infused with buckwheat tea; its nuttiness plays perfectly with the scoop of rich chocolate sorbet.

Sake to Me
You’ll only drink Hokusetsu sake at Nobu restaurants in the United States, but the privilege doesn’t come cheaply. Served in a silver teapot, fruity Daiginjo YK 35 Shizuku runs $480 per bottle; floral-forward Junmai Daiginjo Koshitanrei Hikari with notes of orange blossom and elderflower clocks in at $670; and pear-rich Daiginjo Jukusei Koshu is $3,000.