Nobu Matsuhisa celebrates five years of his namesake restaurant in Dallas

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor


BEFORE... | Nobu finishes off a dish of scallop ceviche with cucumber and chili sauce as Dallas on-site executive chef Matt Raso looks on.

It’s been five years exactly since Nobu, the most famous sushi restaurant in, say, English-speaking earth, opened its elegant digs at the Crescent Court Hotel, replacing longtime resident Beau Nash with a very different kind of cuisine. Sure, sushi’s been around awhile, even in Dallas. But was the town’s collective palate prepared for the highest of high-end sushi and sashimi, not just raw but very pricey?

Yes, as it turned out.

Nobu Matsuhisa returned to the kitchen earlier this month to celebrate his Dallas branch’s half-decade of dining in a land-locked city known more for steakhouses than seafood. And while there were challenges along the way, he seems happy with the results.

When it first opened, people recognized the Nobu name and came out of curiosity, he says. Now it continues to attract tourists who know the brand from other cities, but a core clientele has also developed.

“Dallas was a challenge because of the beef image,” he says hoarsely after a whirlwind schedule that landed him in Dallas just in time for a VIP party for his loyal customers. “But people here like healthy food and they respect quality ingredients and service. We were lucky. We are still lucky.”

Dallas wasn’t the first city that had to learn to appreciate Nobu. Twenty-five years ago, most people didn’t know what ceviche meant — and certainly no Tokyo eateries were adding that to their menus. But while Nobu’s training was in traditional Japanese techniques, he also spent four years in South America, where he began the idea of incorporating Latin elements into sushi recipes for his then-unique flavor profiles. (Just don’t call it “fusion.”)


... AND AFTER | The completed dish. In true investigative journalism fashion, the reporter made sure it tasted as good as it looked. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

At first, his concepts were radical, “but people adapt,” he says. Eventually customers began asking for Nobu to prepare something special just for them — the development of the omakase style (another term unknown to Americans two decades ago). One of those customers was Robert DeNiro. The empire followed — as did the imitators.

“I am very honored,” Nobu says with stereotypical Japanese humility about restaurants that copy (or try to) his signature dish: the miso black cod. “I saw it on a menu in Israel and started smiling.”

The job has been about more than getting people used to his spicy, precise and downright beautiful plates of food; there’s also be controversy about over-fishing (he jokes about Greenpeace).

“In Japan, farm technologies have developed so every shrimp is farm-raised,” he says of accusations of unsustainability. Not so in the U.S., of course, which is why Nobu is cautious about the BP/gulf oil spill.

“It may affect us — we may start to feel the damage [down the road], which is a shame,” he says. His special rock shrimp tempura may suffer. “It was an accident, but people made mistakes.”

Maybe they do. But get a look at a gorgeous plate Chef Nobu prepares himself and you may wonder if he’s one of them.

Nobu Dallas, 400 Crescent Court. 214-252-7000.


Colicchio gets cookin’ in Dallas

Tom Colicchio

Tom Colicchio

Like Nobu Matsuhisa, celebrichef Tom Colicchio spends more time overseeing his empire — and producing/hosting shows for Bravo — than cooking in the kitchens of his Craft restaurants. But just as the new season of Top Chef begins, the bearish icon will be packing his knives … and bringing them to Dallas.

On June 23 and 24, Colicchio will join on-site chef de cuisine at his Craft inside the W to prepare items newly incorporated into the summer menu, including sockeye salmon from Copper River, sweet corn and purple hull peas. If you ever wondered whether food celebrities on TV really can bring it, here’s your chance to find out.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Craft at the W Hotel, 2440 Victory Lane. 214-397-4111.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 18, 2010.