Matsuhisa – The Private Room

Restaurant: Matsuhisa [1, 2]

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

Date: May 6, 2011

Cuisine: Japanese Fusion

Rating: As good as it’s always been!


Some good friends were in town who had never tried Nobu Matsuhisa‘s particular blend of Japanese Peruvian Fusion. As popular as this has become in the last fifteen years, and how every derivative restaurant in America throws a few of his dishes on the menu, the original still rocks. I also scored a Friday night reservation in the coveted and private “Omakase only room,” where his cooking is showcased to the best effect.

The original storefront.

This aged 1st Cru white burgundy from my cellar was the very expression of mature chardonay.

As you can see from the color. This wine is ready, more than ready, as it might have been a tad better two years ago. Still it had a wonderful floral perfume to it.

The private room seats eight, and has it’s own sushi bar and kitchen.

“Seafood springroll with heirloom tomato and caviar.” This is the only repeat of the night, a Matsuhisa classic.Fry is always good, but it’s actually the combination with the spicy tomato chutney/salsa that really sells the dish.

One of the private kitchen chefs working on the appetizers.

Grilling up some conch!

Different members of our party got slightly different versions of this quartet of amuses.

“Seared salmon, new style.” That is with sesame, ponzu, and warm olive oil.

Kanpachi (young yellowtail) with a bit of red peper and ponzu on a radish.

Red snapper carpaccio, with chives, garlic, and vinegar.

A second version of the plate.

Lobster cerviche.

Tai (red snapper) sashimi, new style.

Yellowtail collar marinated in miso (a Nobu classic), baked, and then served with a bit of garlic and texture on letuce. You wrap it up and eat it like a soft taco.

Japanese baby conch, sauteed in garlic butter (escargot style).

The creepy crawly himself. Chewy and a little bitter, in a good way.

Burgundy goes very well with the Matsuhisa flavor profiles. The first time I ever went here, in 1996, I brought a Gros Frere Clos Vougeot. This 2005, Parker gives a 92. “The 2005 Clos Vougeot from Drouhin’s two parcels in that famous cru, is much more earthy and less fine-grained than the majority of their wines from this vintage, but it exhibits impressive concentration. A bone meal-like meld of mineral and meat dominates the nose and suffuses the palate along with black raspberry, plum and cherry fruit accepted by faintly bitter fruit pit notes. This is quite full and rich, but without being heavy; overtly tannic and chewy, but without being coarse. A promising more tart than sweet juiciness of black fruit mingles with roasted meat and stony, chalky minerality in the finish.”

Sashimi salad, with yellowtail, seared blue fin tuna, various dressings, and hearts of palm.

Par boiled Santa Barbara prawn with a tiny bit of salad (including hearts of palm). This was really yummy, even better than the cooked version we had last time. The meat is very sweet and succulent, delicious warm but essentially raw.

Sea bass on a bed of mushroom “risotto” with white truffles. The little spears are pickled ginger shoots.

“Fois gras, seabass, mushrooms, in a very rich reduction sauce.” Very meaty and tasty, the sauce was a pretty awesome blend of all three contributors of yum: salt, sweet, and fatty. The little red fruit is a pickled leeche.

Another very nice, red burgundy, this one (unlike the others) from the restaurant’s list. We drank more than I thought. 🙂

Grilled Toro, with enoki, aspargus, and other mushrooms.

American Kobe Beef with asparagus, garlic, and a spicy sauce and mustard. Really yummy (and rich) dish.

Each person gets a little sushi plate, there were a couple variants, this one has no shellfish.

A version where everything is cooked.

The “normal” plate for those who eat everything.

Chu-toro (medium tuna belly). Perfect!

Kanpachi (young yellowtail). Like butter.

Orange giant clam.

Uni (sea urchin).

Anago (sea eel), in the classic sweet BBQ sauce.

The pretty laquer soup container.

Inside is snapper soup. I haven’t had this one before, although it’s a classic mild Japanese fish broth with cilantro and scallions. The fish is soft mellow whitefish in this context.

My brother got a special surprise, the eye. The chef’s convinced him to try it. “Good for the sinews and joints.”

Taco (octopus). Very tender.

Japanese Sea Scallop sushi, with a bit of yuzu. Always one of my favorite sushis, and this didn’t disappoint.

Kohada (gizzard shard).

Baby squid, battleship style. They’re raw, but tossed in a kind of sweet miso-lemon dressing. Really tasty.

And we finally make it to desserts. Fruit tart with ginger ice cream. This was a total fan fave with the ladies.

Green tea tiramisu with chocolate gelato. Both were good, with the pastry having a nice creaminess and the ice cream a deep richness.

Butterscotch cream brulee with a citrus ice cream. Also really nice and creamy.

Coffee ice cream with chocolate crunch. This was great too, probably my favorite. The crunch added a really nice texture.

Shave ice. Below are a couple balls of vanilla ice cream (very good vanilla ice cream), red bean sauce, and very finely shaved ice.

Then green tea sauce (or maybe just tea) is poured over it. In the end, a very interesting (and Asian) mix of flavors and textures.

Even the urinal is cool.

The main room.

The chefs at work back in our private room/kitchen.

This was probably the best meal I’ve ever had at Matsuhisa, and I’ve had a LOT of great ones. Because I’m jaded now, and used to the cuisine, it wasn’t utterly mind blowing innovative like the first time I ever ate here. But the cooking is as good here as it ever was. Nobu (and his sucessor cooks) still really know their stuff.

For a previous meal at Matsuhisa, see here.

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.