Having not been for some time, we went to Nobu this weekend for dinner. This is usually a special occasion place (for reasons I was reminded of when we got the bill) though this was just a spur-of-the-moment visit. We got there around 7:30ish and were promptly seated. Note, by the way, that the valet for the restaurant is down the side street and not the main hotel entrance, which was new to me. Valet is also a whopping $24.
The menu has been updated some since I've last been, and has become much pricier than I remember (though Nobu certainly was never cheap). I recall there used to be a range of omakase (chef's choice) menus for $80-100-120, I believe. Now there is only a "Signature Menu" for $110, or an omakase for $150 (!!!!!). The "Signature Menu" is comprised of many of the "standard" Nobu dishes - toro tartare, new-style sashimi, black cod miso, beef toban yaki, while the omakase presumably changes regularly. Despite the fairly astonishing prices, I already had omakase on my mind. Oddly, while you can do omakase and a la carte at the same table, you can not do the "Signature Menu" and the (non-"Signature") omakase at the same table. Waiter said this is because they come from different kitchens and they can't coordinate timing of the dishes. Go figure.
In any event, I decided to break the bank and went with the omakase while my wife went a la carte with a yellowtail tartare, creamy spicy rock shrimp tempura, and some sushi. The omakase consisted of:
kanpachi sashimi - kanpachi is in the yellowtail family, a little firmer and leaner. Done w/ a salad of micro-greens and a tart, herby green dipping sauce which I think had shiso and yuzu. Nice but not exceptional.
tai snapper - seared, and accompanied with a couple uni tempura (sea urchin wrapped in nori and flash fried tempura style). The tai was not remarkable (though I'm not a huge fan anyway), though I love the uni tempura.
tuna - raw, sliced thin, topped w/ olive oil and shaved hearts of palm. Interesting - reminded me of a dish done at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon LV with a very similar presentation done w/ sliced tuna and a tomato-infused olive oil. Liked the Robuchon one better.
pompano - grilled or maybe sauteed, and served over a soy & vinegar flavored bed of cubes of crunchy vegetables (tomato, celery, peppers, jicama (?) - almost like an Israeli salad). Tasty and refreshing flavors, though I thought the pompano was too similar to the tai.
bison steak - grilled, accompanied with kabocha squash mash, and a couple dipping sauces (one shiso-based, I believe, the other like a hot-pepper jelly). Pretty good, again not revelatory.
soup - clear dashi broth w/ a tuna harumaki (like a Japanese spring roll with a soft rice paper wrapper). Nice, though I like the spicy tuna harumaki at Yakko San better.
sushi - nigiri of hamachi, spanish mackerel, tuna, toro and possibly one other which I can't recall. At this point the service started getting disjointed, as the sushi came out about a minute after the soup and dishes started piling up. Had to ask for a dipping bowl, which had been removed from the table earlier. The toro was sensational, literally like butter. Best part of the meal.
plum (?) granite w/ passionfruit sorbet - ecchh. The granite was more like shards of ice than the typical grainy texture, the sorbet was puckeringly tart. I'm not big on overly sweet desserts but this was just too tart for me. Maybe would have worked better as an inter-course intermezzo.
roasted bananas w/ orange caramel and coffee parfait - redeemed the prior dessert. The bananas were like a bananas foster, the orange caramel went together nicely, the coffee parfait was yummy.
Service was somewhat hit or miss, we had to ask to get drinks refilled/replaced multiple times, and there was the above-mentioned pile-up of a couple tasting menu dishes coming out within a minute of each other. Each dish in the tasting menu was presented with an explanation, though there was little effort to pace my wife's dishes with the omakase choices (didn't make much difference to us since we shared everything anyway). The place was noisy as it always is, and feels a little packed in. For better or worse (and I usually find it at least amusing), the close quarters seems to encourage cross-table conversation and we talked about the wonders of South Beach with a nice couple visiting from Madison, Wisconsin (quite a change of pace for them!)
Recap: First, I was fairly shocked by how much more expensive it has become. Not only has the omakase become more expensive, but it seems many of the many a la carte items have become ridiculously expensive as well. For instance, the toro tartare appetizer is now $40 - and we're talking about a serving that is about 1/2 the size of a hockey puck. The little dollop of caviar it's topped with can't possibly explain the price. Also, for $150, the omakase really ought to include some more luxurious ingredients. Kanpachi, tai, uni, pompano and bison might be somewhat exotic, but except perhaps for the uni, they're not remarkably expensive ingredients.
Second, the omakase menu was underwhelming. While everything was good, there wasn't a single dish that got a real "wow" out of either my wife or I. Plus, there was a disappointing sameness to many of the items. Between kanpachi, tai and pompano, basically 3 of 5 savory dishes (excluding soup and sushi) consisted of some form of white fish. Raw tuna appeared 3 times (the sliced tuna w/ hearts of palm, the soup w/ tuna harumake, and the sushi).
My wife's choices (the yellowtail tartare, the creamy spicy shrimp, and some sushi) were reliably good as always.
The truth is, between the noisy, bottom-of-the-pool environment, the hit-and-miss service, and the underwhelming selections for the tasting menu, this certainly did not feel like a $150 meal. We would have been much better off if we had both put together our own choices of some of the best "old favorites" and some other items we like. It still would have been pricey (probably close to $100 a head) but we would have enjoyed it more. This is disappointing, because I've previously had a couple really good experiences with the omakase there.
re: Lost Highway
I totally agree with you here... I don't mind spending cash for great food, but so often in Miami you feel like you are throwing money away on pretty average fare, the truly fresh, seasonal, and immaculately prepared meal always ellusive. I think I need to stick to some of the out of the way cheaper eats for a while to restore my faith!
Yellowtail tartare was about $25 (small app-sized portion)
Creamy spicy shrimp was about $20 (generous app, enough to split)
Nigiri was about $5-6 a piece ($10 for toro)
Spicy tuna roll was about $12
Mind you, Nobu's prices have always been stratospheric, but there's clearly been some inflation even from their typically high prices. I will be sticking with Yakko San to get my Japanese fix for a while. Or maybe I ought to go back to Oishi, where the chef trained at Nobu and duplicates many of the dishes.
I've been living here in Miami a year now, and I think it's a real issue. It's not that the dishes at a place like Nobu aren't better than some of the other cheaper options, it's just that they are nowhere near 3 to 5 times better, which is often the mark-up.
So it's fine when you have out of town guests or a special occasion, but for regular dining out it's just not worth the expense.
Just a short follow-up note that we did recently go back to Oishi. We've been several times and only do sushi, have never tried the Thai food (which I've heard is good). For a somewhat lower budget (but not cheap) imitation of the Nobu favorites, this place is certainly worth a try (chef previously trained w/ Nobu and has taken several of the dishes with him and come up with some of his own variations). Note that all the "Nobu-esque" items are listed on the "Chefs Specials" menu which is a separate menu (and also often lists some special rolls and other changing items)
We did a yellowtail tartare (an unabashed dupe of the Nobu dish, right down to the presentation - hockey puck of finely chopped fish in a soy/wasabi broth, topped with a dollop of caviar, served in a small bowl which is planted in a larger bowl of ice); unfortunately the yellowtail was a bit stringy, often the result of using some of the less choice bits for the chopped tartares.
The creamy spicy rock shrimp tempura fared better - a very spot-on rendition of the famous Nobu dish, but for several bucks cheaper, though still no rare bargain at something around $16-17.
A toro jalapeno roll (chopped toro w/ jalapeno and cilantro, served with a yuzu/soy dipping sauce) was very good but miniscule (perhaps looking even smaller when presented on a great big dramatic plate). One of the special rolls (w/ Alaskan king crab, mango, avocado, and who knows what else w/ some eel sauce) was also tasty but a bit overwrought and pricey ($20), though real Alaskan king crab was certainly nice.
An assortment of nigiri (o-toro, hamachi, salmon, uni, and a japanese snapper recommended by the chef ) was all quite good, especially the toro. The sushi chef, sensing either an adventurous eater or perhaps a sucker, offered me their last baby abalone of the night. Turned out to be a beautiful presentation of thinly sliced abalone served in an abalone shell - though I can't quite figure out what all the fuss is over abalone, it was a nice gesture (and turned out not to be an "MP" rip-off, instead only a fairly modest $7).
This place is not cheap, but it's certainly cheaper than Nobu, and you can get a pretty good rendition of many of the dishes from there and also some pretty high quality sushi. Maybe I'll get around to trying their Thai food eventually too.
We've had a lot of the same hits and misses -- and I especially liked the toro jalapeno roll. For those who are wondering, their thai food is very uneven (over the course of a dozen dinners, and a few lunches). I now only get the sushi (plus a thai salad) and am a much happier customer.
re: Lost Highway
I've been Nobu ( NY ) once and never been Miami. I am living in Tampa and my favorite place ( I think more high quality than Nobu ) is TC Choy's Asian Bistro.
Chef Tom always surprised me his creative, artistic and tasty each dish. I never order from their menu. Just sitting at Sushi bar and enjoy Tom's "Omakase" ( Chef's choice )course. He has alot of experienced Japanese traditional food including his world wide fusion concept. All Asian, French, Mexican, Italian, Middle east, Europe, etc....
But, any dish has Japanese traditinal touched behind. Of course he fixed 100% Japanese
traditional dish too. I neve forget this, one time he fixed me 2-way Lobster. Live fish tank aside of sushi bar. He grabed live Lobster from tank and tail off and fixed me Lobster sashimi within 3 minutes. and head and crow became beautiful miso soup.
Last time when I dine in there. He said "try this one,I just made" and gave me
"fresh tuna and salmon brushetta" on garlic toast and "conch & squid ceviche"
Unique and beautiful presentation. Steamed Japanese egg custard soup was
out of the world. my personal favorite is "tuna carpaccio" fresh thin sliced tuna with
fresh garlic and horseradish mixed with soy-sauce and olive oil. sprinkled scallion and
Japanese mint ( called O-ba ) and fresh parmesan cheese. Also my favorite dish
"An-kimo"( monk-fish liver ), this is only limited season available and he called me when he got it. I want to share another dishes more and more but it was too many.
And he fixed fabulous dessart as well. He told me he love making dessert.
His famous "tiramisu" is big surprised. I lost word. Last time I had "chou a la cream"
( cream puff ) with fresh berrys. I can't imagen how create skill he has.
porched pear, tapioca pudding, Japanese pancake stuffed sweet red-bean....
Don't forget, he is sushi chef. nobody make traditional Japanese sushi around but he does.
Price wise.... half than Nobu. I always had 3 or 4 drinks and at least 4 dishes and
dessert. less than $100. I can't go back to Nobu.... maybe someday.
Ever notice that you never hear about this place in Miami? First time I've seen it discussed on this board in recent memory, never listed in anybody's top 10, not cited in magazines, shuns Miami spice (can't come close to price parameters). The reason is probably price, just like hounds probably don't find themselves buying many $35 martinis at the Delano after work.
Second: Oishi Thai has very reasonable lunch prices. I've stuck with Thai items, but there is sushi also (but I don't think you'll find "chef specialty" items).
14841 Biscayne Blvd North, Miami, FL