Restaurants / Openings

Houston’s Long-Anticipated Nobu Restaurant Opens With Special Texas Surprises

Legendary Chef and Robert De Niro Are All in on Bayou City — a PaperCity Exclusive

BY // 05.31.18

Houston foodies, it’s finally time. After a two year wait, Nobu opens on Friday in The Galleria (PaperCity first reported this June debut was coming back in April).

It’s been a long time coming for chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s Houston Nobu, with plans for the restaurant originally revealed in June 2016.

There are nearly 40 Nobus around the globe, from Las Vegas to Honolulu, Budapest to Monte Carlo and well… Dallas. Matsuhisa kicked it all off in 1994, teaming up with a pal to create the original Nobu in New York City.

It wasn’t exactly a low-key partnership forged 25 years ago — the business mind involved? Oscar winner Robert De Niro. Not just anyone is on a first name basis, much less nickname basis, with one of Hollywood’s all-time icons. But it’s no surprise De Niro wanted to bring a restaurant to New York, New York.

“He is more than a partner and a friend. Bob is like family. We understand each other,” Matsuhisa tells PaperCity. “He is just as passionate about Nobu and that Nobu style of hospitality as I am, and even after all these years, we are always excited for what’s next.”

Fast forward to Space City. It’s high time Houstonians got a taste of Japanese meets Peruvian, with a local spin.

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“We call it Nobu Style,” Matsuhisa says. “Peru is where I started experimenting with flavors and creating dishes that went beyond what you would find in a traditional sushi restaurant. Many of the dishes we are known for today are derived from that time in my life.”

Sushi called to Matsuhisa when he was just 11 years old. There were no professional chefs in his family, but after his father died he was raised by his mother.

“I truly came to realize how important home cooking is. A mother or grandmother cooking for children imparts such love. That was an inspiration to me,” he says. “The other side of the story is that I saw other boys in the park with their fathers, playing with footballs and model planes and it made me really upset.”

But a male figure was there for Matsuhisa. “To cheer me up, my older brother took me to a sushi restaurant,” he says. “When I saw the chefs cooking with so much passion and excitement behind the sushi bar, I realized that I really wanted to be a sushi chef.”

His dream took him to the world over, bringing him to his signature style. Nobu Style’s flavors boil down to jalapeno, cilantro, citrus, onion and fresh fish. And when you get to bare bones, it’s all about good food and good service in a beautiful setting.

Since reservations opened for the 10,000-square-foot restaurant, located in the former Saks space at Galleria IV, there’s been a flood of phone calls and a scramble to get a coveted opening night seat — and Nobu only has a sweet 280 of them.

Nobu’s Two Chefs and True Texas Love

The Nobu menu is divvied up between cold and hot dishes, each with their particular prep station. Chefs Carl Murray from Nobu Dallas and Eiji Saito of Nobu Las Vegas in Caesars Palace head the two kitchens.

What’s on the menu? On the cold side, red snapper sashimi with dry miso and yuzu, lobster ceviche on butter lettuce, shiitake salad with spicy lemon dressing and more.

Meanwhile, some like it hot. Think Nobu’s legendary (and often imitated) miso black cod, rock shrimp tempura with ponzu butter or spicy cream, Maine lobster with spicy garlic or wasabi pepper — the list goes on and on.

That iconic miso black cod has a solid origin story. It is a dish concocted from an overlooked fish and a whole lot of faith.

It dates back to 1987 at Matsuhisa Beverly Hills. “At that time you couldn’t really find a lot of fish in Los Angeles,” Matsuhisa says. “So I went to the fish market and found frozen black cod. No chefs were using it. They totally disregarded it. I was thrilled because it only cost 25 cents per pound!”

And so he took it, sliced it and marinated it in a blend of miso, mirin and sweet sake for three days. Then, Matsuhisa sliced the fish and caramelized it under a broiler.

It’s now a world-famous dish, Nobu’s signature and one that is now found in Japanese restaurants throughout the world. “But really, this is one of the simplest Japanese dishes that exists, what we all eat regularly. Fresh fish, miso, sake, ginger — simple ingredients!” Matsuhisa says.

Matsuhisa’s not one to rest on his laurels. Nobu’s passionate chefs create their signature dishes while experimenting with local flavors, listening to their customers and collaborating to create something all-new every day.

“Consistency is a part of Nobu style, but consistency does not mean making everything the same,” Matsuhisa says. “To us, consistency means bringing the same level of creativity, service and passion to every dish we create, every guest we serve.”

Houston is no exception. Dreamed up specialties — whole king crab leg, grilled lamb rosemary miso, prime ribeye yuzu truffle butter — already await. If you come to Texas, you’d better bring the meat.

“When we start creating a new menu, we like to really think about the local tastes and flavors, but also the local people,” Matsuhisa says. Still, when Nobu first opens, you’ll only see a few dishes that are unique to Houston.

“This is because cooking is a two-way experience. We like to listen to our guests, learn their likes and dislikes. Explore the city, see what inspires us and then create from there,” the chef says.

What’s piqued the chefs’ interests so far? Creole and Cajun. But that’s just the tip of Houston’s culinary iceberg.

Nobu’s Texan touches will be legit, courtesy of locally sourced, seasonal seafood and produce. Wild Gulf Red Snapper for whole fish, Texas lamb, Texas Vidalia onions for the rib eye.

“Using local ingredients matches our philosophy — the best dishes come from the best ingredients — and I think it’s important to support local businesses as well,” Matsuhisa says.

Nobu may be an international hit, but this new one will have some Houston too.

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