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February 02, 2006

Dom's Omakase

Sushi chef slicing a fish, or triceratops ready to eat me?!?
After a brief Vegas and sickness-induced hiatus, I return with photos from the other end of the seafood spectrum. From a tour of hole-in-the-wall Baltimore fried fish, we move on to trendy, cutting-edge neo-Japanese. Nobu Matsuhisa, along with his Iron Chef cohort Masaharu Morimoto, was one of the pioneers of neo-Japanese cuisine, and his influence is felt in every trendy sushi bar across the country. But while most of his imitators are all about style over substance, Nobu doesn't overreach, ensuring that his creative accompaniaments never overshadow the fish itself. And it's some damn fine fish. As such, while Mix in Las Vegas was exceedingly tempting (and will assuredly be on the docket next time), my greatest hits trip to Vegas this past weekend mandated some raw fish.

It's a snazzy joint. It's a hipster joint. It's regularly packed with people who seem more concerned with the scene than the food, but that can't be held against it. Besides, seeing some well-heeled older gent dining with a slinky lady who may or may not be... *ahem*... a professional... is all part of the fun. Nobu Las Vegas is a slick room, done minimally in hardwood, bamboo and black, polished rock. And the staff is even sharper than the decor. As many times as I've been there, the service has always been impeccable... doubly impressive considering the boisterous crowd that the Hard Rock Casino, where it is located, engenders. That such meticulously and minimally prepared dishes emerge from the Vegas chaos is part of the beauty. My first experience with Nobu was at this very location. Our reservation was too late in the evening for us to try the Omakase, due to time restrictions. But what originally seemed a missed opportunity turned out to be a boon. Our waiter, god bless him, told us that he could put together a better tasting menu than the Omakase. Though it would take tasting the official Omakase on a later trip to confirm his claim, it wasn't puffery. I don't remember his name, but we put ourselves in his hands, and the dishes he brought us that night served as the baseline for what would eventually evolve into Dom's Omakase. If you drop into any Nobu, these dishes are highly, highly recommended. Dom's Omakase is broken down into three rounds. First come the sashimi appetizers. Next, the hot seafood. And finally, stomachs permitting, a round of fresh sushi to close things out. So, without further ado:

Round I - Sashimi
Fresh Kanpachi Sashimi with Jalapeño
Always on the menu with yellowtail, I usually substitute kanpachi if available. Kanpachi is very young yellowtail, and in my experience is a firmer fish with a lighter flavor. It's not a question of being better... just different. The fish is in a light ponzu, and you eat each slice with a bit of japapeño and cilantro. Very simple, with just the slightest modern twist.
Whitefish Tiradito, Nobu Style
Next up, the tiradito. As with most of the sashimi appetizers, they'll let you select your fish, but I stick with the default whitefish here. This one again brings in the cilantro and the spicy, this time as a dot of sriracha. But the difference is in the sauce, which is tart, tart, tart... heavy on yuzu, I believe.
Tuna Tataki with Ponzu
This one's fairly traditional, and as such acts as something of an anchor for round one. The tuna is very lightly seared and topped with a sweet ponzu, scallions and ginger. Where it departs a bit from tradition is in punching up the garlic, both in the sauce itself and in a thin slice of garlic on each piece of fish. When the fish is on, this dish rocks. Of course, this is Nobu, so the fish is always on.
New Style Sashimi - Salmon
My personal favorite from round one. The fish is drizzled with a heated combination of olive and sesame oil, lightly searing the fish. There's also a soy-based sauce, chives and toasted sesame seeds. I always, always go with the salmon here, as I think it stands up best to the bold oils. It's rich and delicious.

Round II - Hot Fish
Broiled Black Cod with Miso
Nobu's signature dish. The fact that he revealed the recipe to Martha Stewart, of all people, only strengthens my belief that she is a vicious demon and must hold some dark sway over his soul. Though in truth, the dish is almost worth selling your soul for. A succulent, rich, fatty cod is marinated in miso, mirin, sake and sugar, and broiled to caramelize. It is frequently imitated, but most make the mistake of going far too sweet, upsetting the sweet/salty balance. Do youself a favor. Eat the skin
Creamy, Spicy Crab
As awesome as the black cod is, I flip-flop on whether this or the cod is my favorite. This is Nobu's take on the mayo spicy phenomenon, which removes the pretense of rice. The crab is seared in a hot skillet and topped with a generous helping of a mayo based sauce that contains sriracha, citrus and an abundance of fish roe.
Arctic Char with Crispy Baby Spinach
I love char. It's almost like salmon, but not so aggressive. Here, it's simply prepared, just barely touched with a light, buttery sauce, and accompanied by deep-fried spinach. Though I have a high tolerance for it, I think this dish shines when the spinach is aggressively salted.

Rock Shrimp Tempura with Mint Sauce
I don't have a photo of the last hot dish because, sadly, it wasn't available this trip. Of course, I order it off the menu, so I consider it a great bonus when they're good enough to make it for me. I first tried Nobu's mint sauce as a special, where it topped soft-shell crabs. It was so incredibly fantastic that we tried to order more, only to discover that they were out of the crabs. When I asked the waiter if they could just put the mint sauce over some rock shrimp tempura, he seemed surprised, but couldn't think of any reason why not. We placed two orders and devoured them. If they'll make this for you, do it.

Round III - Sushi
Assorted Sushi
It was that first Nobu waiter who suggested we close with sushi, and I think it's a wonderful, simple finish. There are many who will say that you don't go to Nobu for the sushi, and I say screw them. Sure, it's mostly very traditional, and you can get great sushi in a lot of places, but it's absolutely outstanding at Nobu and I can't think of a better way to end the meal. After the first two rounds, I take inventory, surveying the table's hunger level, and then order appropriately. It's a comforting, filling finish to a great meal.

Of course, despite the numerous visits, I still haven't managed to work my way through the entire menu. I try to slip in one new dish every time, but it takes time. So if any other Nobu devotees can suggest anything I have to have, by all means, let me know. I like to think that Dom's Omakase is a living, breathing culinary roadmap, and I look forward to revising and improving it at every possible opportunity.


i love nobu's toro tartare and monkfish pate

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