Ponzu

by wjw on November 2, 2012

Today was a day for displaying a complete lack of ambition.  I went into the ocean twice, and found that the reef just offshore is more interesting than I’d expected.  Most was fairly dead, as I’d anticipated, but there were some pretty soft corals, some hard corals, and anemones, parrot fish, angel fish, and sea cucumber.  Plus lots of weeds.

I only bought a couple shirts with me, because I figure I’d buy shirts here.  And so I did, at Bailey’s, where you have 15,000 aloha shirts to choose from, at nice discount prices.  I got a couple by classic designer Reyn Spooner, some vintage shirts from the 1970s, some other, newer shirts.  Maybe I’ll model some later.

We decided to open our journey with complete decadence and had dinner at Nobu, the Waikiki branch of celebrity chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa’s empire.  I have to say the place was very casual for a fancy restaurant: first glance at the big, noisy room and its decor, and I thought “high-end cafeteria.”  The light fixtures are in god-knows-what, Japanese lobster traps maybe.   The cushions on the banco were so soft that the level of the table was high, nearly at my chin.  There was no privacy or intimacy.  The designer may have been aiming at a Japanese minimalism, and if so probably succeeded, but the result was so noisy that the food would pretty much have to stand on its own.

We opted for the seven-course tasting menu at— and I shudder as I write this— $125 per diner.  And then thought, what the hell, it’s an early Christmas present.

First up, I had a caipirinha, because the national cocktail of Brazil, with its rotgut sugar cane liquor, seemed somehow appropriate for Nobu’s Peruvian-influenced Japanese cuisine.

The courses came out fairly briskly— not quite in the machinelike style of a Shoney’s, but neither was the pacing leisurely.

First up was a small bowl of shaped, chopped toro swimming in ponzu sauce, with a dab of caviar on top.  The fatty tuna was balanced very well by the ponzu’s citrus elements and the caviar’s saltiness.  A nice starter.

Next up were lovely sashimi-slices of pink snapper, lightly seared in oil, with ponzu and chives and very thinly sliced jalapeño.  (I don’t think we had a course without ponzu, except maybe the dessert.)  Crunchy chives, delicate snapper, citrusy ponzu.  Nothing here not to like.

Then a salad of sashimi over micro-greens, with a spicy salsa showing Nobu’s Peruvian influence.  This was followed by tempura crab in a tart ponzu. I would have walked over moderately warm coals for more of the tenpura crab.  Crunchy, sweet, utter perfection.

Next up was red meat, wagyu beef served on a charred eggplant with a nicely seared mushroom and more tart ponzu.

“This needs salt,” I said, as the first slice of beef melted on my tongue.

“No it doesn’t,” said Kathy.

“Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt on top of this, it would really kick it up,” I said.

“No it wouldn’t,” said Kathy.

After which came a plate of nagiri sushi.  Less rice than usual, so it wouldn’t be filling.  More toro, salmon, Spanish mackerel, giant clam, and something else.  I really liked the mackerel, thought the giant clam was probably better on the ocean bottom— very chewy, that.

And then the dessert, a cylinder of soft, not-very-sweet white chocolate surrounded by fruit and sweet crunchy things.

I would rave, but this wasn’t a rave sort of meal.  More like a thoughtful conversation between the chef and diner— each element lovely and well-presented and balanced.  (Except the wagyu needed salt.)  Certainly memorable, and the flavors certainly overcame the high-end-diner setting.  Even the lack of intimacy turned out to add to the experience, because you could watch the other diners eating, and that’s was enlightening all by itself.

$350, though, counting the tip.  Can’t really make a habit of this.

 

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