Nobu’s Ma’o-ized omakase menu

You’d think word that Nobu Matsuhisa was in town and that he’d be cooking at his Waikiki outpost for a week would fill up the restaurant’s reservation book. But it was easy to get a same-day table for two on his last night on the island. And I was thankful. The restaurant’s special “Ma‘O Farms Locally Inspired Menu” on Thursday was worth the celeb-chef-in-town hype. The first dish (pictured above) had nothing to do with the Wai‘anae farm/leadership training station, but included the best treatment of the Big Island-farmed baby abalone every restaurant in town feels obligated to use. Abalone steamed with daikon were softly chewy (instead of feeling like I was crunching through my own lip) in a sauce that took me back to grandma grinding sesame seeds with mortar and pestle to make the accompaniment for steamed tako. Its partner was o-toro tartare topped with osetra caviar. It melted as smoothly as sorbet, the subtle buttery, briny flavors a natural sedative.

From the regular menu came scallop tiradito—slices of scallop dressed with just white truffle salt and a bath of Tahitian lime (which was from Ma‘O). It was a fun experiment. The scallops came with a little pile of Chinese parsley leaves. A bite of scallop without the leaves had the lime overpowering the sweet meat. Add a snippet of cilantro and *shazaam• like magic the lime flavor is there, but somehow neutralized and everything is in perfect harmony.

New Zealand King salmon arrived as a salad of little canapés—slices of blood-orange-colored fish layered with a slice of radish and a slice of turnip.

The instant winnah of the night was hot-food chef Lindsey Ozawa’s way with ‘ehu—two little filets pan-seared and served in a ginger-soy sauce, accompanied with cauliflower, slightly crisp maitake mushrooms and rainbow chard. And a nest of bonito flakes wavering in the food’s heat. (I love the bonito flake dance—it has the childlike-wonder element, like making the water-activated worm from a straw’s paper packaging.)

Wagyu beef was actually from Japan (like, how much Wagyu-STYLE beef can there be?) and certified, with its bloodlines and name and…reticulatednoseprint. “Yes, sir, that is Steer Masakatsu. I’d recognize his nose anywhere.”

The dish was a pile of comfort, slices of beef topped with a lump of seared foie gras and a big cube of eggplant, which in itself was like a steak.

Following the kaiseki pattern, the dinner ended with soup (miso with some shreds of lobster) and rice (nigiri sushi).

And newish pastry chef Rachel Murai ended dinner with a fruity, refreshing bang. A snowball of housemade lemon meyer ice, cream is as silky as something you’d slather on your face, sat atop a mini-spadefull of chocolate “soil” with a side of coconut foam and a schmear of basil coulis. But even better was a new addition to the regular menu—a small brick of creme de marscapone (think cheesecake meets panna cotta) in a pool of tart-n-sweet lilikoi, with the seeds, next to a small mountain of a very fine crumble made from almond flour and olive oil.

The whole shebang was worth the $125.

The whole time, chef Roy Yamaguchi was a couple tables over, hanging with Nobu Matsuhisa and folks such as Hokule‘a crew member Kanako Uchino. The sake was flowing freely.

Is the kitchen stressful when chef is in town?, I asked Ozawa. He made a mock-distressed look on his face—is it possible to convey respect, fear and irreverence all at once. Yes, yes it is.

My advice: Next time Nobu is in town for a week, head to the restaurant.

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One thought on “Nobu’s Ma’o-ized omakase menu

  1. That looks and sounds so delicious. The first course and the Wagyu would have been plenty for me, although maybe I could fit in the tiradito.

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