Having not been for some time, we went to Nobu this weekend for dinner. This is usually a special occasion place (for reasons I was reminded of when we got the bill) though this was just a spur-of-the-moment visit. We got there around 7:30ish and were promptly seated. Note, by the way, that the valet for the restaurant is down the side street and not the main hotel entrance, which was new to me. Valet is also a whopping $24.
The menu has been updated some since I've last been, and has become much pricier than I remember (though Nobu certainly was never cheap). I recall there used to be a range of omakase (chef's choice) menus for $80-100-120, I believe. Now there is only a "Signature Menu" for $110, or an omakase for $150 (!!!!!). The "Signature Menu" is comprised of many of the "standard" Nobu dishes - toro tartare, new-style sashimi, black cod miso, beef toban yaki, while the omakase presumably changes regularly. Despite the fairly astonishing prices, I already had omakase on my mind. Oddly, while you can do omakase and a la carte at the same table, you can not do the "Signature Menu" and the (non-"Signature") omakase at the same table. Waiter said this is because they come from different kitchens and they can't coordinate timing of the dishes. Go figure.
In any event, I decided to break the bank and went with the omakase while my wife went a la carte with a yellowtail tartare, creamy spicy rock shrimp tempura, and some sushi. The omakase consisted of:
kanpachi sashimi - kanpachi is in the yellowtail family, a little firmer and leaner. Done w/ a salad of micro-greens and a tart, herby green dipping sauce which I think had shiso and yuzu. Nice but not exceptional.
tai snapper - seared, and accompanied with a couple uni tempura (sea urchin wrapped in nori and flash fried tempura style). The tai was not remarkable (though I'm not a huge fan anyway), though I love the uni tempura.
tuna - raw, sliced thin, topped w/ olive oil and shaved hearts of palm. Interesting - reminded me of a dish done at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon LV with a very similar presentation done w/ sliced tuna and a tomato-infused olive oil. Liked the Robuchon one better.
pompano - grilled or maybe sauteed, and served over a soy & vinegar flavored bed of cubes of crunchy vegetables (tomato, celery, peppers, jicama (?) - almost like an Israeli salad). Tasty and refreshing flavors, though I thought the pompano was too similar to the tai.
bison steak - grilled, accompanied with kabocha squash mash, and a couple dipping sauces (one shiso-based, I believe, the other like a hot-pepper jelly). Pretty good, again not revelatory.
soup - clear dashi broth w/ a tuna harumaki (like a Japanese spring roll with a soft rice paper wrapper). Nice, though I like the spicy tuna harumaki at Yakko San better.
sushi - nigiri of hamachi, spanish mackerel, tuna, toro and possibly one other which I can't recall. At this point the service started getting disjointed, as the sushi came out about a minute after the soup and dishes started piling up. Had to ask for a dipping bowl, which had been removed from the table earlier. The toro was sensational, literally like butter. Best part of the meal.
plum (?) granite w/ passionfruit sorbet - ecchh. The granite was more like shards of ice than the typical grainy texture, the sorbet was puckeringly tart. I'm not big on overly sweet desserts but this was just too tart for me. Maybe would have worked better as an inter-course intermezzo.
roasted bananas w/ orange caramel and coffee parfait - redeemed the prior dessert. The bananas were like a bananas foster, the orange caramel went together nicely, the coffee parfait was yummy.
Service was somewhat hit or miss, we had to ask to get drinks refilled/replaced multiple times, and there was the above-mentioned pile-up of a couple tasting menu dishes coming out within a minute of each other. Each dish in the tasting menu was presented with an explanation, though there was little effort to pace my wife's dishes with the omakase choices (didn't make much difference to us since we shared everything anyway). The place was noisy as it always is, and feels a little packed in. For better or worse (and I usually find it at least amusing), the close quarters seems to encourage cross-table conversation and we talked about the wonders of South Beach with a nice couple visiting from Madison, Wisconsin (quite a change of pace for them!)
Recap: First, I was fairly shocked by how much more expensive it has become. Not only has the omakase become more expensive, but it seems many of the many a la carte items have become ridiculously expensive as well. For instance, the toro tartare appetizer is now $40 - and we're talking about a serving that is about 1/2 the size of a hockey puck. The little dollop of caviar it's topped with can't possibly explain the price. Also, for $150, the omakase really ought to include some more luxurious ingredients. Kanpachi, tai, uni, pompano and bison might be somewhat exotic, but except perhaps for the uni, they're not remarkably expensive ingredients.
Second, the omakase menu was underwhelming. While everything was good, there wasn't a single dish that got a real "wow" out of either my wife or I. Plus, there was a disappointing sameness to many of the items. Between kanpachi, tai and pompano, basically 3 of 5 savory dishes (excluding soup and sushi) consisted of some form of white fish. Raw tuna appeared 3 times (the sliced tuna w/ hearts of palm, the soup w/ tuna harumake, and the sushi).
My wife's choices (the yellowtail tartare, the creamy spicy shrimp, and some sushi) were reliably good as always.
The truth is, between the noisy, bottom-of-the-pool environment, the hit-and-miss service, and the underwhelming selections for the tasting menu, this certainly did not feel like a $150 meal. We would have been much better off if we had both put together our own choices of some of the best "old favorites" and some other items we like. It still would have been pricey (probably close to $100 a head) but we would have enjoyed it more. This is disappointing, because I've previously had a couple really good experiences with the omakase there.