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A Ducasse-adent Nobu Experience

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A Ducasse-adent Nobu Experience

Dumas | Oct 13, 2000 09:11 PM

Since I don’t have the clout or audacity to make a reservation at ADNY (I am only a medical student), my friend and I decided to go to Nobu and order 2 omakases—a standard $70 omakase and an Alain Ducasse special, a $160 omakse. Since I owed my friend a large sum of money (I lost a wager), he would be the one lucky enough to sample the upgraded omakse. Our goal for the evening, aside from indulging ourselves silly, was to try and determine if paying exorbitant prices would yield similarly exorbitant pleasures.

For the first course I had 3 Kumamoto oysters—one topped with osetra caviar, another topped with chives and red wine vinegar, and the third topped with a tomato “salsa”. My friend on the other hand, received a little mound of minced toro topped with osetra caviar and surrounded by a wasabe cream sauce moat. Both were uniquely delicious in their own way. I felt that my oysters were able to hold their own against my friend’s toro.

Next, we were both given Nobu Matsuhisa’s signature “new style” sashimi. Mine was grouper topped with a sliver of chives, a sliver of ginger, some sesame seeds, soy sauce, and flashed with a bit of hot olive oil. The upgrade was also a new style sashimi, but grouper was tossed aside and replaced with little Japanese yellowtail. The yellowtail was topped with jalapeno and cilantro instead of chives and ginger. There were no sesame seeds. The little yellowtail was much smoother than the grouper and dissolved satisfyingly in your mouth.

Our plates were cleared and a plate of seared Spanish mackerel salad was placed before me while my friend was graced with a seared white salmon salad that included 2 spears of Matsutake mushrooms. I began to envy my friend. Highly prized in Japan, Matsutake mushrooms symbolize the onset of autumn and sell for as much as $150 a pound. Again, the white salmon was silkier in texture than the Spanish mackerel (which was beautiful in its own right) and the Matsutake mushroom was a delightful treat.

Then came the ultimate tease—my friend had the distinct pleasure of trying hamo eel. Hamo eel is a summer treat in Japan and even in Japan, this delicacy is localized to the Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto area. Interestingly enough, Masaharu Morimoto lost his Hamo Eel battle during his stint on the Japanese show Iron Chef because he was not able to prepare the eel as deftly as his native Kyoto opponent. Morimoto seemed to have no problem preparing the dish that evening though, as he sliced the eel hone kuri style and made the eel look like a flower hundreds of fine white petals. The eel was topped with caviar and served with slivers of white asparagus on a bed of mashed potatoes with hamo eel gelatin. The delicate meat of the eel had a sweet, subtle flavor that matched very well with the slightly bitter asparagus and the creamy mashed potatoes. As for me, I had nothing. Not even a little sprig of something to munch on as I clenched my teeth in agony, watching each piece of precious eel disappear.

The waiter announced that it was now time to proceed to the hot courses. My first hot course was rock shrimp tempura covered with a spicy cream sauce and accented with bits of fresh shitake mushrooms. My companion had the soft-shell crab spring roll. Though the sauce was spicy, it was perfectly so and did not mask the sweetness of the shrimp. I actually preferred the shrimp to the spring roll which was good, but standard.

Next, we had 2 cooked fish dishes. My black cod marinated in sweet miso for 3 days was very good. The sweetness of the miso had penetrated the white flesh of the cod to tame the fish’s natural oiliness. My friend had arctic char cooked medium rare topped with fried spinach and garlic chips. Both were equally delicious.

Again, my friend had the pleasure of sampling one additional entrée and what an additional entrée it was: the coveted Kobe beef. I thought that the beef had a healthy flavor to it, but was not as tender as filet mignon. My friend disagreed and insisted that it was indeed more tender. “Here, try this piece,” he said. “I think you have to try the piece at the tip.” So I tried it for the second time and agreed that this second piece was slightly better, but still not as tender as a filet at a good steakhouse. “See? Isn’t it much more tender?” I could not agree. Either he was wanting very much to believe that this was one of a kind beef or I had a huge case of sour grapes.

We then received identical bowls of miso soup with 2 little neck clams each to cleanse the palate before the sushi arrived. My sushi selection was boring at best—tuna, yellowtail, fluke, and shrimp. If the sushi chefs intended for my meager selection to accent the far superior sushi across from me, then they succeeded brilliantly. The waiter highlighted the toro, fresh fluke, white salmon, anago, uni, and kampachi (wild yellowtail) on my friend’s plate. He made a specific point to add that the fluke on my friend’s plate was “fresh”. Well, I wondered, what does that make the fluke on my plate? Even the wasabe was different. My standard sushi was accompanied by generic powered wasabe which dissolved completely when I mixed it with soy sauce. The wasabe on my friend’s plate was fresh--as noted by the milder flavor and the bits of wasabe root that floated mockingly in the soy sauce.

Finally came dessert: a bento box of chocolate souffle and vanilla ice cream for my friend, poached peaches and cream for me. Needless to say, my friend got the far superior end of that deal.

To be fair, I must say that my standard omakase was very good and that, as promised I was wowed by the play of textures and flavors. However, the upgraded omakase sent me reeling. Though I am only a humble medical student, I would have to say that it was well worth the additional $90 to sample such exotic and luxurious ingredients. Yes, I realize that I could buy a small wardrobe for the amount of money that I spent on dinner that night. But if I had to choose, I would rather go barefoot and shirtless. So does double the price equal double the pleasure? At Nobu, most definitely so, and more. Which makes one wonder if Alain Ducasse is legitimate after all.

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