Hard Rock (last visit: October 2007).
When Nobu opened in New York City, it created a sensation. Reservations were nearly impossible to get, and its new interpretation of traditional Japanese food was widely praised. This led to the inevitable branding of the restaurant; Nobu can be found all over the globe.
Meal #1: I found Las Vegas Nobu's sushi highly variable. The overall quality was OK, but some items (e.g., uni) were poor while others (e.g., ankimo) were good. Orange and honey flavored sake was interesting but probably not worth repeating.
Meal #2: Since my first meal, I went to Nobu in Miami Beach, sat in the dining room and had the omakase meal. I enjoyed that a bit more, so decided to give the Vegas location another shot.
The restaurant looks OK, but nothing great. It's very noisy, in keeping with the Hard Rock atmosphere. The crowd is mostly young, but I think anyone would feel comfortable here; I did. Service is pleasant, although all the servers are running around at full speed.
Now, on to the meal:
Overall, the meal was good, but not as good as Nobu in Miami, and not nearly as good as Okada. At the price they charge ($120), they need to do better.
- I chose Jyunmai Daiginjyo sake. It wasn't bad, but was a trifle harsh.
- Small Japanese spring roll with balsamic vinaigrette reduction. Good.
- Trio of raw seafood: sea scallop slice, oyster, ama ebi (raw shrimp). All served with onion and other spices, although each was slightly different. Good.
- Seared maguro and a slightly strong flavored fish, with garlic chips and a pickled ginger shoot. A good combination. Very good.
- Uni (sea urchin) and some white fish, served on sliced eggplant. The uni was seared and was surprisingly delicious. There was also a tiny river crab, to be eaten shell and all; interesting for the crunch, not the flavor. Very good.
- O toro and a spring roll with Jalapeno sauce and radish. The o toro was good but a little chewy, and the strong sauce tended to overwhelm the tuna. Good to very good.
- Palate cleanser: intensely flavored, sweet/sour mango sorbet, on top of a red granite with little flavor.
- Service lapse. Up to this point, courses had been timed well. At this point, I waited for about 15 minutes, with no explanation. This was a little annoying.
- Grilled sea scallop on a bed of mushrooms, bits of seafood, and brown rice. Very good.
- Foie gras and Kobe beef. A large hunk of foie gras; good flavor. Kobe beef very good. Overall, very good to excellent.
- Service lapse: the next course was supposed to be sushi, followed by miso soup. They reversed the order, and apologized later. A minor matter.
- Miso soup. Better than average; good fish stock flavor, not too salty. Very good.
- Sushi: o-toro (tuna belly), shima aji (variety of mackerel?), some kind of crab, unagi (eel). Very good.
- Fruit papillote. Like a crepe. The raspberry seeds were very distracting. Fair.
- Honey ice cream. Very strong honey flavor. Strange, but I liked it. Very good.
Meal #3: Based on past meals, I hadn't planned to return. However, I found myself at The Hard Rock Hotel at meal time, and no other choices looked appealing. I decided to go for unusual choices, hoping this would be a strength. This worked out better. My selections:
This was the most satisfying of my meals at Nobu. Nothing was stellar, but everything was good.
- Ankimo (steamed monkfish liver). Standard but still very good.
- Hamachi kama (grilled yellowtail collar). This is a chunk of fish, skin and bone, served grilled. It may not sound like much, and it's a little difficult to get the flesh out, but it's usually very rich and very tasty. I was both happy and sad with my choice: it was very good, but not as good as elsewhere. If you'd like to try this dish, order it robatayaki style at Okada.
- Live shrimp. These Santa Barbara shrimp were killed in front of me, so I guess that means they're fresh. They were big and rather chewy; I'm guessing the latter is due to their recent demise. The heads were served tempura style, and were juicy and tasty.
- Live octopus. I'm not sure that it was live, but slices of the tentacle, served raw, were indeed very fresh tasting - and much less chewy than the cooked version. Pretty good.
Nobu's strength is its new take on Japanese foods. Its weaknesses are sushi that isn't in the same class with the better places in Las Vegas, and suspect service. Given such high prices, I'd look elsewhere. If you end up going anyway, see meal #3 for a possible strategy.
There's a lot of variation in price, depending upon what you order. A three course meal might cost $75, plus drinks, tax, and tip. My omakase cost $120, plus drinks, tax, and tip.
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