Fusion fare on a first-name basis at Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills
December 25, 2012
BEVERLY HILLS, USA – When celebs ascend to first-name brand recognition, you know they’ve arrived. If I say Beyoncé, Madonna, or Britney, it’s not like you need their surnames to know who I’m talking about. When this happens with chefs (and it’s rare), you know they’ve ascended to a considerable dining empire. Wolfgang may have been one of the first true celeb chefs to emerge from the LA scene, but at the top of the Asian fusion throne sits Nobu.
Yes, Nobu Matsuhisa, who opened his first restaurant Matsuhisa along La Cienega’s restaurant row in 1987, is (as his website proclaims) now known to the world simply as “Nobu.” The globetrotting chef was born in Japan and trained as a classical sushi chef before soaking up South American cooking techniques during stints in Peru and Argentina–hence the never-before-seen marriage of Peruvian-Japanese fusion fare that he introduced at his Beverly Hills flagship. It was an overnight success that kicked off not only his American career but the whole Asian fusion craze.
Today, he’s got restaurants from New York to London to Tokyo (self-named “Nobu,” no less), but eating at the original is still a thrill. Sticking to its rather humble roots, Matsuhisa has remained remarkably low key, even as the crowd and prices have gone distinctly up-market. The space is still solidly no-frills (be prepared for cramped quarters and basic furnishings), though signed celeb artifacts tacked up on the walls (and real live celebs squished into the tables) attest to Matsuhisa’s success.
Matsuhisa is the original when it comes to fusion Japanese fare, and he still does it best. The simplicity of Japanese cuisine is punched up with Peruvian spiciness. Inventive favorites include the yellowtail jalapeño, ankimo (monkfish liver pate), and everything from sushi to ceviche. The tastes are subtle yet edgy and consistently yum.
Chef Nobu himself sets the tone for the low-key scene and dress code, often making appearances in his surfer-themed chef outfit for a friendly chat with diners. It’s surprisingly casual for such an upscale venue–a cute skirt, hip top, and flats will do the trick (you can do jeans and a relaxed top here, too, no prob). Sushi lovers, friends, and a generally well-heeled and discerning crowd of “normal” people balance out the sprinkling of celebs.
I’d like to suggest an update on what passes for “décor,” but then again gussying it up would cause the restaurant to lose part of its essential charm. Putting a little more space between the tightly packed tables, though, would sure be nice. The only possible advantage to such cramming is that when you listen in on the conversation next to you, you might just hear first-namers like Mary-Kate, Clint, and, um, Snoop gushing about their pal Nobu.
Read more about Matsuhisa in our Los Angeles Guide.
Rachel Levin contributed to this post.