Matsuhisa – Where it all started

Restaurant: Matsuhisa [1, 2]

Location: 129 N La Cienega Blvd Beverly Hills, CA 90211. (310) 659-9639

Date: January 23, 2011

Cuisine: Japanese Fusion

Rating: As good as it’s always been!


When I first ate at Matsuhisa 15 years ago it was a revelation. I’d been eating all this great traditional sushi for years and here was a totally new — even avant garde — take on the cuisine. Classic dishes like yellowtail with jalepeno have made there way onto countless less innovative menus. It’s been awhile since I’ve been here, and  I felt the hankering to know if they still had the stuff.

Nobu, a Japanese native (obviously), came to LA by way of Peru. And this is apparently the real genesis of the “Nobu Style,” mixing traditional sushi with Peruvian flavors. Apparently it has a relationship even to Peruvian street food. I myself only spent an hour int he Lima airport, so I can’t testify to that.

A Matsuhisa classic, “Toro tartar with caviar and a miso ponzu.” I’ve always loved the combo of the rich fatty toro and the acidic punch of the sauce. This theme of adding acidity to the fish is a consistant one.

Very very nice burgundy. Not many reds go well with the soy notes of this cuisine, but Burgundy does. The softness of the pino — minus the overzealous oaking that new world pinos usually have, works. Parker gives it a 97. “Grilled spices, and sweet red fruits are found in the aromatics of the 2003 La Romanee. Full-bodied, fresh and rich, this intense wine exhibits exceptional depth of fruit, concentration, and purity. Loads of candied black cherries dominate its juicy, extroverted personality and copious solid (yet ripe) tannin make an appearance in its exceedingly long finish. This offering, a beautiful marriage of power and elegance, should be drunk between 2009 and 2020.”

“Seafood springroll with heirloom tomato and caviar.” Certainly a tasty spring roll, and a dish I’ve had here before. Still it tastes mostly like fry and tomato. Good fry.

Clockwise from the back left. Monkfish liver with a little chille, tuna with onion and cucumber salsa, young yellowtail with ponzu, and spicy tuna taco. All of these were tasty, but I particularly liked the rich monkfish liver and it’s combined vinegar/spice tang.

Japanese baby conch, monkfish liver with ponzu and chille, tuna with salsa, young yellowtail with ponzu.

The conch pulled from its happy little home, coated in butter and parsley. This has a bit of chew to it, and a bit of bitterness, but is actually very pleasant.

“Artichoke salad.”

“Sashimi salad,” japanese scallop, tuna, mackerel, daikon wrapped greens. All very fresh. The scallop was particularly good. I love raw japanese scallop. Cooking them is a crime. Nobu has very good dressings. In fact, he sells a line of them commercially!

“Seabass with a sweet sauce and mache and grilled pepper.”

Half giant santa barbara prawn with cilantro, ponzu, and mache. Good sweet prawn. Too bad it didn’t have a nice juicy row like they sometimes do.

Seared toro with soba noodles and miso sauce.

Kobe beef, farro, mushrooms, and chipolte chili sauce. This was a really tasty dish. The sauce had a bit of heat, and that smoked chili flavor, paired perfectly with the tender/rich meat and the grains.

Left to right. Tuna, yellowtail, salmon, red snapper, tamago (egg). Fresh wasabi and picked ginger.

Toro, squid, mackerel, kanpachi, sea eel. The sushi here still is totally first rate. Melt in your mouth first rate. And I liked the big hunks of fresh marinated ginger.

Miso soup. Classic.

The vintage Matsuhisa dessert, “bento box” of flour-less chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. It’s still a combo that works — even if it’s very overdone. They use a very high quality ice cream.

Banana bread pudding with vanilla ice creme and creme anglais. Even though I’m not much of a banana fan, this was really delicious.

“Green-tea tiramisu with chocolate ice cream.” This was my least favorite of the three, although certainly not “bad”‘ in any way.

Certainly Nobu has kept the quality level up. In an absolute sense things are as good as ever. One weird bit is that so many other places have copied the cuisine . Not that they do it better. Most don’t use the same quality of ingredients, or they overdo stuff, dumping too much spicy mayo or sweet sauce on everything. A perfect example of this is Sushi House Unico (REVIEW HERE). Like anything more or not always more. Not that Unico isn’t a perfectly tasty joint, but it isn’t in the same league as Matsuhisa. Takao (who used to work for Nobu) and the late Hump (memorial REVIEW HERE) are among the few places that have their own totally successful take on the style.

But something that has also nagged at me for years is this, given how innovative the whole cuisine was to begin with, how relatively little has changed. Does each great chef have only one break through? Is innovation of this sort only done by the young? Or is the novelty born of the fusion of Japanese and Peruvian flavors? Maybe we need to send Nobu on a world eating tour!

For a second review of Matsuhisa, in the private room, click here.

10 comments on “Matsuhisa – Where it all started

  1. […] lead sushi chef Ryo is when he strikes off the beaten path. He takes the style pioneered by Nobu Matsuhisa (REVIEW HERE) into even more radically over the […]

  2. kevinEats says:

    Sounds like you had a similar experience to my last visit here. Despite the proliferation of Nobu’s all over the world, Matsuhisa’s still got it!

    • agavin says:

      Yeah still better than Nobu. Although the big N is pretty dependable — I have no beef with it at all. The one in Malibu is one of the only good places in Malibu open late.

      Next up on my quest to fatten my midsection: Fraiche Culver city this weekend and Saam in 2 weeks! (been to Bazaar a bunch, figured I try Saam. Your E meal made me seriously green).

  3. […] Cod, Daikon Radish, Lemon-Togarashi Aioli.” A variant of the Miso Black Cod pioneered at Matsuhisa (REVIEW HERE). This one has a lot more flavors going on. Not only the sweet, but tangy and the richness of […]

  4. […] the “traditional sushi bar.” I like the warm rice Nozawa/Sasabune school and the modern Nobu school, but there is something satisfying about […]

  5. […] Takao is more based on the model created by pioneer Nobu Matsuhisa at his eponymous restaurant (REVIEW HERE). In fact, Takao himself worked with Nubu at said restaurant in the early 90s. But he spun out in […]

  6. […] the corporate version of the Japanese-Peruvian fusion begun by Nobu Matsuhisa at his eponymous Matsuhisa (REVIEW HERE). While not quite as inventive as the original, the Xerox job is pretty darn good. Food quality is […]

  7. […] this, make sure to check out the previous review, or some other good sushi like Sasabune, Nobu, Matsuhisa, Takao, or the incomparable […]

  8. […] drizzled with a warm ginger and jalapeño ponzu sauce.” This is their interpretation of the classic Nobu dish. Everyone has it now. This version was a tad overdone, throwing in a few more elements and […]

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