Considering that Nobu is generally considered to be a best place in the US to have sushi, it gives me a bit of cognitive dissonance to think of it as a chain restaurant. But I’ve been to three Nobu restaurants (two in New York City), and had remarkably consistence experiences at each. I’m not sure this is a good thing.
Nobu Fifty Seven on W 57th St, and Nobu New York on Hudson St in New York City, both offer mouth-watering Japanese food in a high-end atmosphere. The Nobu in Malibu is similar, albeit with more of the “California casual” ambience. Nobu New York is Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s flagship restaurant, with a Michelin star rating and a certain amount of prominence in its Tribeca neighborhood. The chef’s modern style and creativity with sushi standards is known throughout the world; I understand that the Nobu London also does fantastic business. I’m of the opinion, though, that a world-class restaurant ought to reflect a sense of place – be it NYC, Southern California, or by Hyde Park in London, England. The similar experiences and consistency of the menu options at the three Nobu restaurants I’ve dined in, suggest a homogeneity that I’d expect at Starbucks – a traveler hoping for that unique New York experience should consider herself warned.
Don’t get me wrong; the sushi and Japanese entrees really are delicious. The signature Black Cod with Miso is succulent and sweet, and Nobu’s Yellowtail Tuna with Jalapeno is mouth watering and savory (it packs a spicy punch, too). As with all top-notch Japanese restaurants, the appetizers and entrees at Nobu are beautifully presented. In fact, the soft shell crab rolls, tuna tartare and salmon skin salad are presented the exact same way in each restaurant I’ve been to. I can’t speak for all the dishes of course, but this is telling, regardless. Fantastic Japanese entrees and sushi meets a sense of sameness from one Nobu to the next. The flagship Tribeca restaurant also feels a little sterile.
The sake list is impressive, and the waitstaff at each Nobu seems to have favorites to recommend. However, a restaurant – no matter how stellar the quality – that risks uniformity for the chance of ubiquity, risks a great deal indeed.