Jan 24, 2017
A Seat at the Table
It's a brisk Honolulu evening when I walk in the front doors of Nobu at Ward Village.
The restaurant is abuzz with activity as a small army of servers, chefs, and hosts busily dart through the dining room. A savory mix of tantalizing aromas hang in the air. Although the restaurant opened their doors only a few short weeks back, they've seen a steady surge of guests—including President Obama and his entourage—sit down for dinner in their new Honolulu digs. And for good reason: The more than 30 Nobu restaurants are some of the most esteemed in the world and their latest Honolulu location is no exception. However, this Nobu in particular has something special: a six- to eight-person teppan table where diners are privy to an unforgettable experience. And that's what's brought me here tonight.
Teppan, or teppanyaki, refers to a Japanese type of cooking where a meal is created over a large iron plate, directly in front of the diners. While this approach typically sees teppan chefs perform an elaborate series of tricks and pageantry, you won't find any of that here. Under the tutelage of Chef Itoh, a teppan expert who's in town to train other chefs at Nobu on his technique, there is no pomp involved. There's only a focused, deliberate, and highly planned 18-plate meal, broken into vegetable, seafood, and meat courses. It's precise and creative; simple and elegant. And while it may seem like a daunting amount of food, the portions are small and spaced out enough to ensure that it's not overwhelming.
We like to think of this as an omakase-type of approach to teppanyaki. We really wanted to let the ingredients shine. For our vegetable course, we're preparing all of our dishes very simply; we want to let their natural flavors come through. In that sense, this approach is really similar to our approach to sushi. It's what helped inspire us to create this opportunity for our guests. Just like with sushi, we want our dishes to go straight from the chef to the guest and not lose anything in the transition. To be fresh, simple, and delicious.
With that, the first vegetable course, composed of an expertly cooked and simply prepared slice of eggplant, arrives. Just as chef Raso told me, it's utterly perfect in its simplicity. Just a few bites in, and it's clear that the experience really does mirror an omakase-type of meal. Following the vegetable course, we're treated to the seafood tasting, which consists of one of the most delicious dishes I've ever tasted, Big Island abalone. "To me, our Big Island abalone is something we had to include. Again, it's a simple preparation, but you're able to fully taste the abalone for what it is."
Our final tasting, which is composed of a variety of meat, was truly something special. In addition to a few delectable slices of steak, we were treated to the hero of the evening: melt-in-your-mouth lamb chops, perfectly cooked and seasoned. The entire table agreed this dish was heavenly. Visions of the lamb, which was paired with a miso-rosemary sauce, will be floating through my head for some time. "Yes, the lamb is really delicious," adds chef Raso with a gentle smile. "We wanted to find the best quality ingredients and let their natural flavors shine, but there are certain dishes, like this lamb, where we can step in and enhance the flavors a bit like we've done with the rosemary-miso sauce."
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