In Nobu Malibu, Dream Times with the Famous and Near Famous

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MALIBU, Calif .– Listen, but don’t make it obvious. Is that Bella Hadid? Or is it a person who has worked extremely hard to make himself see like Bella Hadid?

Nobu Malibu’s dining room spills out outside, floating dreamily above the Pacific Ocean. It’s full of people of indeterminate ages with plump, glowing skin and long, extra-thick lashes, wearing soft, un-wrinkled fabrics and layers of gold chains.

Some are regulars, powerful lunches; others celebrate special occasions (including the victory of the reservation itself, still bordering on the impossible). But everyone is playing a version of this game: See! Is it…?

In this light, with so many paparazzi on the sidewalk, the answer is not immediately obvious. Nobu Malibu is one of those places where the veil between worlds is so thin, the famous and the famous-adjacent blur together. The weather itself is getting syrupy.

Was anyone surprised to see pixelated photos of Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck here just a few weeks ago? No, because Nobu is from 2002 and Bennifer and Frosty Tips. Nobu is Vanessa Carlton, heading downtown, and Season 5 of “Sex and the City” shaken and poured into a tall stemmed glass.

A visit now should feel predictable and dated and maybe even slightly embarrassing, like stumbling across an old photo of you in a dress over dazzling jeans. But somehow – and that’s part of the magic of Nobu Malibu – it’s not.

Perhaps that’s because the restaurant, which opened in its current beachfront location in 2012, isn’t entirely stuck in the past. There are often new dishes on the menu, a kitchen run by Gregorio Stephenson, and a sushi counter run by Toshiyuki Shiramizu. Some of them remain, like the raw and crisp artichoke salad, seasoned with yuzu juice, to then be replicated in other Nobu locations.

Some of the best dishes are the simplest – immaculate pieces of fish dressed in bright citrus juices, seasoned with a concentration of dehydrated miso or a tiny dab of chili paste or a single tender leaf of cilantro. The yuba crab and avocado rolls are barely embellished, but wonderfully soft and luxurious. Grilled shrimp with the head is a juicy and delicious mess.

You might be tempted by the miso cod that Nobu Matsuhisa made famous – a Kyoto dish known as saikyo yaki. Mr. Matsuhisa processed the fish directly in miso and sweetened it for American tastes using mirin and sugar. It stays on the menu in every location, forever and ever. There’s even a version of smaller pieces of slippery white-fleshed cod, in the same glaze, in lettuce cups, as the restaurant is keenly aware that new diners feel pressured to try it, but don’t necessarily want to. an entire slice of a starter.

But I wouldn’t bother ordering either. Other old-fashioned dishes, like the tiny fondant uni tacos, perfectly constructed in fried won ton skins, and buttered monkfish liver pate with caviar and green, unripe yamamomo or Japanese mountain peach, have aged so much better.

Yet understanding the development of Nobu’s miso cod version is key to the channel’s influence.

Mr. Matsuhisa was born in Saitama, Japan, the youngest of 4 children. When he was 8 years old, his father died in a motorcycle accident. When he was a teenager, he was kicked out of high school and started working at a small family-run sushi restaurant in Tokyo, accompanying the chef to the market every morning, carrying his boss’s basket of cold fish.

What he learned in Tokyo was traditional, but a few years later, when a regular offered him a partnership at a restaurant in Lima, Peru, he adopted the local South American fish, unlike this. what he was used to, and a whole host of ingredients he has I never dreamed of applying to sushi before, from lemon juice and cilantro to olive oil and tomatoes.

In the United States, he first tried softshell crab and put it in a sushi roll. When a guest raised his nose in front of pieces of raw fish, he cooked the surface with a drizzle of hot oil to make it more palatable. He cut squid into noodles for a kid who wanted pasta. Mr. Matsuhisa’s mythology as a chef and businessman was built around these ideas of experimentation and hybridization – his ability to adapt the Japanese flavors he knew to appeal to diners around the world, like with miso cod.

At this point in his biography, around 1987, when he opened Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills, Madonna and Barbra Streisand became regulars, and fame became inseparable from his work.

Mr. Matsuhisa’s collaboration with Robert De Niro and Drew Nieporent produced the first Nobu in New York, then a chain with 46 branches around the world, from Budapest and Moscow to Kuala Lumpur and Dallas.

For a short time during the pandemic, I wondered if restaurants were revealed to me more fully, if takeout was a way of seeing an entire restaurant compressed into a box, stripped to its true self: just the food, packed up to goes.

Of course I was wrong, and it’s obvious now, but I didn’t realize how wrong I was until I made my way to Nobu Malibu, just as vaccinations were becoming more accessible and restrictions. catering were lifted in Los Angeles.

I had forgotten how an enthusiastic, fast and very attentive team can make you Feel. The vibrations that people can create and maintain by making the endless demands of their work seem effortless.

At Nobu Malibu, it’s not just the cooks and waiters who are pros, who know their job inside out. Bussers are pros. Valets are pros. The man who sneaks around tables at dusk to close umbrellas and turn on heat lamps when the temperature drops is a pro. And all of the staff seem to have been formally trained as Instagram stand-in boyfriends, ready to patiently snap photos of you in front of the ocean – vertically, horizontally, and now the one you’re looking at here, perfect.

Nobu Malibu may be part of a chain – a gigantic high-end international chain – but its pleasures are not exactly repeatable.

The food is good, better than it takes given the brand’s market power and customer loyalty, but neither is the food in and of itself. Without the charming scholarly waiter who conspiratorially whispers to you that, you know what, white caviar really isn’t worth it. Without the celebrity spotting, without the crisp cuts of fish, crisp and transparent in the sun, without the birds surfing the breeze at eye level, and without the ocean crashing under ledges of thirsty, flowering succulents.

The food is good, but that’s not the point. If you want a respectable piece of miso cod, there are a number of places you can head to, including, of course, any Nobu location. But if you want the salt spray and the vibes, you’ll have to go to Malibu.


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