MAY 6, 2017

Nobu Goes Filipino


When one hears the name Nobu, one immediately thinks “fine Japanese-Peruvian fare,” many thanks to the innovation of renowned chef Nobu Matsuhisa, whose black cod in miso took the world by storm. Nobu’s famed restaurants and hotels span the globe, from New York to London, Athens to Munich, Moscow to Monte Carlo, Budapest to our very own Manila.

But even with all that creative mastery, how many of us really imagined that Nobu’s penchant for fusion would extend to our local cuisine? Well, it seems that the wildest fantasies really do come true at the City of Dreams, because from April 1 to June 30, Nobu restaurant has added Filipino-inspired dishes to its dinner menu.

The idea for these specials was conceived following an event that involved chef Michael De Jesus, head chef of Nobu Manila, and Nobu New York’s executive chef Ricky Estrellado, who demonstrated to the rest of Nobu’s international culinary team — including Matsuhisa himself — how well Filipino flavors play with the existing Nobu concept.

De Jesus, who was born in the Philippines but spent many of his formative years in the United States, has clocked in his hours at Nobu. He has worked with the company for nine years total, establishing him first as the sous chef of Nobu Los Angeles, and later on as chef de cuisine of Nobu Las Vegas, before coming to helm the Manila establishment in 2016.

De Jesus’ mother is from Ilocos Norte, while his father is native to Zambales. He recounts how one of his most favorite dishes growing up, even in California, was the classic Filipino peanut-based stew, kare-kare. De Jesus mentions the love and care that went into his mother’s preparation of the dish, saying, “We were spoiled. She always made it with oxtail, and she had to make sure that she could get all those good, fresh ingredients, or she wouldn’t make it at all.”

It is this attention to detail that has not only gone into the development of the specials, but that crosses over into the general philosophy that guides the entire dining experience at every Nobu establishment.

“Wherever Nobu is located, the restaurants try to adapt to a certain extent to what produce is available and what flavors might be popular,” explains Nobu Manila’s general manager Marlon Hirsh. “But even if you have the best and freshest ingredients, it is nothing without the kokoro.”

Kokoro, as some may know, is the Japanese word for “heart,” but the word transcends a mere organ and suggests a complete connection of heart, mind, and spirit. This is the driving force behind Nobu’s cuisine, highlighting the importance of inserting soul into the creation of every dish, whether it’s a heavier main dish or a simple but masterful piece of sushi.

But the thoughtfulness in the conceptualization of these dinner specials isn’t simply in its masterful craftsmanship; rather, it has extended to their general affordability, given the caliber of Nobu dining. This is largely credited to the restaurant’s effort to participate in “Flavors of the Philippines,” the annual gastronomy festival organized by the Department of Tourism and the Tourism Promotions Board.

It starts with Nobu’s Sushi Bar, which includes a selection of nigiri with prices ranging from P350 to P490. Each order comes with two pieces, featuring Seared Tuna Sushi with Coconut Milk, unanimously loved by everyone at our table; Whitefish Adobo Sushi, a personal favorite from the selection; and local Snapper Sushi with Tomato Salsa and Salted Egg. Each type of sushi is perfectly seasoned, and are served without additional sauces for dipping. The sushi bar specials also feature an eight-piece maki in the form of the Tuna Sisig Cut Roll, a great value at P380 per order.

With the main course specials come an appetizer-sized Kurobuta and Foie Gras Sisig “Pica Pica” (P530 for two pieces), which features sous-vide pork belly and is served in a toasted mantou bun. The Nobu Palabok (P1,240) is a thing of beauty that uses udon instead of your classic thinner noodles, which holds up to the delicious uni palabok sauce, spectacularly capped off with tiger prawns and an Onsen egg.

Then there is the Wagyu Beef Short Rib Kare-Kare Anticucho (P1915), which may be the cleanest, most delicately balanced kare-kare you may ever try. With perfectly cooked vegetables, a moderate amount of sauce, and just the perfect amount of accompanying shrimp paste, it’s a dish that is scrumptious for those who already love kare-kare, but is also a great way to introduce the dish to those who may be apprehensive about its contents.

While everyone and their mother seems to try and reinvent the wheel, what Nobu accomplishes here is the perfect give-and-take in making fusion work. Each ingredient has its place, each flavor is given a moment to come through, and instead of combating each other, the elements of each dish align to form perfect harmony. It’s the sheer fulfillment of the expectation that when Nobu opens its doors to embrace local cuisine, it does it in the way it knows best, and that is with simple, delectable perfection. (www.philstar.com)

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