report from the island of lana`i part 2 of 3: nobu at the four seasons resort manele bay

nobuYou know you’ve made it when the world knows you by just your first name. Chef Nobu Matsuhisa is a distinguished member of the elite “one-name-only club,” having made his mark on the global restaurant scene with his unique fusion cuisine that blends traditional Japanese dishes with South American ingredients.

Shortly after billionaire Larry Ellison purchased 98 percent of the island of Lana‘i in 2012, he successfully persuaded Nobu to open a restaurant at the Four Seasons Resort Lana‘i at Manele Bay. Nobu Lana‘i opened in December of that same year, purportedly to coincide with Ellison’s Christmas visit.

On our recent visit to Lana‘i, my friend Janet and I had an opportunity to experience Nobu. Neither she nor I had dined at one of his other restaurants, so this was our maiden voyage into the land of Nobu. The restaurant’s setting is positively breathtaking: overlooking the hotel’s pool deck that’s illuminated with blazing tiki torches, and lovely Hulopo‘e Bay as the backdrop.

As we’re shown to our table, staff members welcome us with the traditional Japanese greeting, “Irrashaimase!” which means “come on in,” and is a commonly used phrase throughout Japan. Server Erica brings hot towels so we can freshen up a bit before beginning our meal. Janet and I sink into our chairs, take a deep breath, and our busy day on Lana‘i fades way as we enjoy our surroundings and take in the pleasant contemporary house music playing in the background.

While we pore over the menu, food runner Darrell brings us some goodies to munch on: steamed edamame with sea salt, and shisito peppers from the hotel’s garden that have been flash fried and tossed with miso and sesame seeds. “Every tenth pepper is spicy, and it’s good luck when you get that one,” Darrell tell us. “It’s best to eat them starting at the tip, then work your way forward.” Regardless of how you eat them, these little babies are the bomb, and I continue sneaking them into my mouth throughout the remainder of the meal. I never do find the lucky spicy one, but I do feel lucky to have eaten them at all!

Erica explains the fusion concept behind Nobu: Japanese proteins are enhanced with Peruvian spices and sauces. Peruvian, you ask? When he was 24 years old, Nobu accepted an offer from one of his Japanese patrons that took him to Lima, Peru, to open a restaurant. During his time in South America, Nobu began weaving Peruvian influences into his dishes, and his signature style was born.

Janet and I are “Nobu newbies,” so we decide to go with the Omakase (Chef’s Choice—$120 per person) menu, and let the chefs select the dishes they want to present to us this evening. Erica asks us a few questions to help get the chefs started: “Are raw fish and sashimi acceptable? Are you okay with meat, and having it prepared medium rare? What spice level is comfortable for you? Are there any special dietary restrictions?” Since it’s our first visit to Nobu, Erica tells us the chefs will be preparing signature items from the menu for our culinary journey this evening.

Our first dish is Bigeye and Bluefin Toro Tartar with Caviar. It’s presented in a pale blue glass bowl that’s nestled on crushed ice. The tartar has been molded into a perfect circle, and it sits atop a mixture of soy sauce and wasabi, and is garnished with caviar. A yamamomo (mountain peach) speared with skewers sits alongside. Erica tells us that chef recommends smashing the yamamomo with the accompanying demitasse spoon and use it as a palate cleanser. The tartar is rich, pleasantly salty, and has a complex textural element, and the yamamomo really works!

Next, we’re presented with Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeno. This is a visually appealing dish with three gorgeous pieces of yellowtail bathed in yuzu and soy sauce—each topped with a paper thin jalapeno slice—and several cilantro leaves at the ready. Darrell recommends placing a cilantro leaf on each slice of sashimi, and folding each piece so the jalapeno is in the middle. The texture of the sashimi is superior, and each bite provides a little explosion of flavors. Ole! Now we’re seeing some of that Peruvian influence!

For our third course, Janet and I dive into the Bigeye Tuna Sashimi Salad with Matsuhisa Dressing. Three slices of the rubiest-red bigeye tuna imaginable are dressed with Nobu’s signature dressing, and accompanied by uber-fresh mixed greens. The dressing is thick and chunky, and marries well with the delightful richness of the fish.

When Darrell brings our Lobster Tempura with Wasabi Aioli, Janet and I can’t wait to dig in. A huge portion of succulent lobster has been deep fried in a light tempura batter and covered in a wasabi aioli that Janet declares to be absolutely decadent. This dish is whimsically presented in a huge red radicchio leaf made to resemble a clam shell. A grilled Meyer lemon is on the side, and when we squeeze it over the lobster, the dish really pops.

Time for some meat. Our next course is 48-Hour Teriyaki Glazed Short Ribs with Rocoto Mustard. It’s been cooked sous-vide style, which renders the meat oh-so-tender. Three lean chunks of short rib are on a bed of assorted grilled mushrooms, accompanied by grilled tomatoes with the skins partially removed, and garnished with my new favorite tidbit—a grilled shisito pepper. In a matter of minutes, Janet’s and my plates were clean!

Traditional Japanese cuisine dictates that you enjoy your miso soup and sushi/sashimi course just prior to dessert. In keeping with this tradition, our next course is just that: raw ‘ahi, hamachi, salmon, scallop, and uni (sea urchin) are accompanied by a Japanese egg omelet and steaming miso soup. Erica tells us the chefs at Nobu Lana‘i source their ingredients from far and wide—the ‘ahi is local; the hamachi and scallop are from Japan; the salmon was obtained from New Zealand; and the uni hails from Santa Barbara.

Janet and I have been on quite an exciting culinary journey, which is coming to an end. But it’s a good end. Erica brings Nobu’s signature Bento Box Dessert: a luscious chocolate soufflé sits in a bright orange bento box, with a dollop of green-tea ice cream and a white chocolate-dipped strawberry alongside. It’s a charming presentation, and the sweet, rich chocolate is nicely offset by the savory green-tea ice cream. And who doesn’t love chocolate and strawberries?

As a bonus, Erica brings us another signature dessert: shave ice with blood oranges, blueberries, and raspberries, with a scoop of dulce de leche ice cream, all topped with pineapple sauce. The fresh fruit is bursting with flavor, and this frozen treat is a refreshing end to an amazing meal. Welcome to Lana‘i, Chef Nobu. We’re very happy you’re here.

–heidi pool

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