18: Matsuhisa's Yellowtail Scallion Donburi.
You may be able to eat chef Nobu Matsuhisa's stunning Peruvian-influenced Japanese cuisine at one of his many restaurants around the world, the Nobus in Aspen or the Bahamas or London or Milan or Greece or Tokyo. (One could go on.) Or at one of the two Nobus in Los Angeles, either the palace on La Cienega in what was once L'Orangerie, or the newly opened beachside fish museum in Malibu, which Matsuhisa had built right on the Pacific. One might consider it the anti-Gladstones.
But if you want to experience the chef's food in a somewhat more comforting environment, you might stroll in off the street some lunchtime — no reservations, no valet needed — and sit down at the sushi bar at Matsuhisa. Matsuhisa is the chef's original restaurant, which he opened in 1987 and almost closed in 2006 when he and business partner Robert de Niro opened the Nobu just up the street. They didn't close it, for which both its regulars and the rest of the city should be profoundly grateful.
Here you can see evidence of Nobu before he became, well, Nobu. The place is simple and unpretentious, with lots of pale wood and colorful drawings of fish on the walls and friendly servers who are more than happy to let you sit at the bar and eat donburi. Because while you can order the famous Nobu dishes here too — the black cod with miso, the tiradito, the bento box warm chocolate soufflé cake — you can also order a simple rice bowl and a cup of tea, in much the same way that you can, after all the flash and fanfare of Tokyo's famous Tsukiji fish market, stop for donburi at one of the little stalls that surround the furious action of the fishmongers.
Donburi, which is both the name of the bowl itself and the rice bowl dish, at Matsuhisa come in many forms: You can get tekka or toro donburi, bowls with sea urchin or unagi, with halibut cheeks or tempura or beef katsu, even squid pasta or mussels in spicy garlic sauce. But my favorite is the donburi with a fine dice of raw yellowtail and thinly sliced scallions, atop rice so perfectly cooked it's reason alone to order the dish. Very faintly warm, the grains fit together like some lovely jigsaw under the utterly fresh fish — a chiffonade of nori, a sprinkle of sesame seeds, a tangle of daikon, a shiso leaf and a thin wedge of lemon the only other accompaniments. Add some soy sauce if you like, or ask for a bit of fresh wasabi.
Maybe later you can dress up and go eat fluke sashimi on the beach, but it's nice to know that you can eat Nobu's beautiful food this way. A bowl of rice. A cup of tea.
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