Chef Nobu Matsuhisa puts heart into new restaurant

It’s a natural fit. The world’s most famous Japanese chef opening up shop in a town noted for its Japanese tourists. But it didn’t come about overnight … and it’s not all just about the tourists.

“It’s been in the making since two or three years ago, so it’s been a while,” says Chef Nobu Matsuhisa of the new Nobu Waikiki at the Waikiki Parc Hotel. “I’ve been visiting Hawaii for about 20 years and I love it. Plus Hawaii has a lot of good local products, and we finally found the right partner with Halekulani and Waikiki Parc.”

The new Nobu was scheduled to open its doors on May 27, offering innovative Japanese cuisine and featuring a priceless “ingredient” Chef Nobu refers to as “Kokoro,” or heart. In developing his menu, Chef Nobu has sampled the “heart” of Hawaiian culture, including many indigenous local ingredients and delicacies from the island.

“I hope this restaurant will become home to the residents and guests of Hawaii,” Chef Nobu says. “For I feel that through Nobu Waikiki I too have ‘come home.’ I am ready to cook with Kokoro, to delight and gratify my guests, making sure they leave wanting more.”

Guests won’t be disappointed by the 7,500-square-foot restaurant which features a dramatic bar and lounge, a sushi bar, private dining room and a main dining space that can accommodate 250 guests. The Rockwell Group created a stunning design that is accented by Italian onyx paneling, soaring artisan wall hangings and walnut finishings. Nobu Waikiki embodies a sense of grandeur yet provides a feeling of warmth and intimacy.

“In less than a year, the radius of Waikiki’s Lewers and Kalia Street has become the entertaining and dining mecca of the Pacific,” says Peter Shaindlin, chief operating officer for Halekulani Corporation. “Collaborating with Nobu and David Rockwell has been an exhilarating experience as well as a great privilege for our corporation … Waikiki is now poised to become a global culinary destination.”

For Chef Nobu, it’s a chance to somewhat return to his Japanese roots. He was born in Saitama, Japan, and traces the beginnings of his professional ambition to the day his older brother took him to a sushi restaurant for the first time. He worked at a sushi restaurant in Tokyo until moving on to open a restaurant in Lima, Peru.

“Clientele-wise, Hawaii is close to Japan and has a lot of Japanese tourists, so I’m sure we’ll have more Japanese customers, which is nice,” Chef Nobu says. “Also, being in the Waikiki Parc Hotel across the street from the Halekulani means being a part of a high-class resort and naturally a lot of our customers from around the world stay here.

“As far as the food goes, it’ll be the same as the other Nobus around the world to start with, serving all my signature dishes. Over time, I’ll be incorporating local ingredients and coming up with something special to Hawaii.”

Nobu, who lives in Beverly Hills, California, currently has 18 restaurants in 14 cities around the world, with new openings in Los Angeles, San Diego and Melbourne, Australia, later this year.

The original Nobu opened in New York City in 1994 as a partnership between Chef Nobu, actor Robert De Niro, producer Meir Teper and managing partner Richard Notar. The Nobu brand now spans the globe, from London to Tokyo, Las Vegas and Malibu, Milan, Italy, and Miami Beach.

“People can expect good food and good service,” Chef Nobu says. “I want customers to enjoy their time at Nobu Waikiki and go home happy.”

If past success is any indication, that should not be a problem. His restaurant, Matsuhisa of Beverly Hills, was chosen as one of the Top Ten Restaurant Destinations by the New York Times in 1993 and Nobu New York was awarded Best New Restaurant by the James Beard Foundation in 1995.

Chef Nobu was named one of America’s 10 Best New Chefs by Food and Wine Magazine in 1989, one of Southern California’s Rising Stars by Los Angeles Times Magazine in 1998 and was inducted into Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America by the James Beard Foundation in 2002. He has been nominated for Outstanding Chef by the James Beard Foundation nine times.

The addition of Nobu clearly raises the bar for fine dining in Waikiki, but Chef Nobu says that bar is already set pretty high.

“Honolulu is very developed in terms of restaurants and I’m happy I get to have a restaurant there alongside my friends Roy (Yamaguchi) and Alan (Wong). Roy and I are neighbors now. I want Nobu Waikiki to be a place where locals come and hang out.”

Nobu at Waikiki

Cuisine: New Style Japanese
Executive chef/owner: Nobu Matsuhisa

Owners: Robert De Niro, Meir Teper, Richard Notar
Architect: David Rockwell
Location: Waikiki Parc Hotel

Across from Halekulani
2233 Helumoa Road
Honolulu, HI, 96815
Websites: www.noburestaurants.com , www.waikikiparc.com , www.halekulanicorporation.com
Hours: Monday-Sunday (dinner) 6 to 11 p.m.
Monday-Sunday (bar lounge) 5 p.m. to midnight
Contact numbers: (808) 237-6999; (808) 237-6990 (fax)
Reservations: Highly recommended