Nobu’s New Block

The chic Japanese restaurant takes up residence at Ward Village.


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According to Matt Raso, executive chef at Nobu Honolulu, the draw of moving the restaurant from Waikiki to Kaka‘ako was the opportunity to attract more local diners. Well, to paraphrase that famous movie line, “build it, and they will come.”

The restaurant, located on the ground floor of Waiea at Ward Village, has certainly caught on with the kama‘aina crowd.

On any given day, there are groups of regulars—Waiea residents and area workers— along with young professionals waiting to be seated at the bar for some pau hana carousing as the restaurant opens its doors. They are all greeted by a hearty “irasshaimase!”

Indeed, during its first week of operation, it attracted one of Hawai‘i’s most famous former-residents, then-president Barack Obama.

“He brought all his friends and family and we felt very honored to have him,” says Yuka Hinoda Raso, general manager and Matt’s wife.

Matt is an old pro at serving presidents. “I’ve served him twice, I’ve served Bill Clinton,” he says with a smile. “It was great to have him, it couldn’t have come at a better time, right when we opened.”

The elongated restaurant features a bar on its Diamond Head side, dining room in the center and a teppan table at the far ‘ewa end. In early evening, the space is bright, evoking languid movement with its undulating wooden panel ceiling, curved booths and wooden slat walls. As the sun sets, the restaurant gets darker, sexier.

“I think we’ve seen a lot more local clientele,” Matt says of the new location. “Me personally, I feel more comfortable in the space … i know Nobu-San wanted to be a part of the community and be involved in the new development of Honolulu that’s going on. I think he made the right choice, and you can really feel it.”

Not only does Nobu Honolulu have a new look and location, it also boasts a new menu that offers dishes that are either Nobu classics—dishes that the restaurant is famous for—and Nobu now, recently created dishes. the fun part is moving between the two menus, and discovering how Matt enjoys playing with color, flavors and texture.

The ‘ahi uni truffle miso, part of the “now” menu, is a decadent offering: slices of ‘ahi, topped with truffle crumble, shiso, uni, truffle miso and micro shiso.

Giving it a run for its money in the decadence department is the opah foie gras, also from the “now” menu. here, the opah topped with slices of foie gras that’s seared in a nalu farms honey ponzu. The fish is accompanied by a mac nut crumble, grape halves and micro pea shoots. A dusting of miso salt completes the sweet, salty, earthy dish that offers up both silky and crunchy textures.

Matt has been noticing the new crowds are a bit more adventurous in their menu choices.

“The sea bass Umamiyaki is really taking off,” he says. “The oven-roasted dishes are really doing well. We’re doing a lot more steaks, which is great. Duck and lamb are on the menu … it’s nice to see some meats as options.”

One of those steaks is the ribeye umamiyaki, a prime ribeye served with ma‘o farms seasonal root veggies and Nobu style sauces.

From the classics menu, the spiny lobster tempura amazu ponzu shines. Previously served with king crab, Matt decided to switch things up at the new location. “We have king crab available in three different places on this menu,” he says. “So, I wanted to bring in [spiny lobster] so it’s available.”

Creativity is key to the delicious desserts as well. Classics like the bento box and fiji water shaved ice are there for Nobu purists; but you’d be missing out if you don’t try the pineapple coconut mousse or yuzu creme brulee. The drunken cherry tobanayaki, with its butter mocha sponge, is a clear guest favorite.

Nobu Honolulu now offers different ways to experience the restaurant. “We have a beautiful bar,” Yuka says. “This a new thing for us, the outside bar and also a teppan table.”

At the bar, guests will find a lounge menu that offers up Nobu renditions of familiar dishes such as Nobu tuna sashimi tacos, oysters with Three sauces and take poke crispy Quinoa. There are newer dishes such as two of Yuka’s favorites: steamed clams tobanyaki and roasted lamb rib served with rosemary miso.

Pair those menu items with a signature cocktail. One to try is The tiradito, which was created by Nobu Honolulu bartender JJ anchetta for a Nobu cocktail competition. His cocktail, based on Nobu’s famous tiradito dish, is a bright and citrusy concoction made with tito’s vodka, mezcal, rocotto syrup and a touch of cilantro. Anchetta’s winning libation is now one of Nobu Honolulu’s signature cocktails. There’s also a selection of wines and champagnes as well as an array of hokusetsu sakes, which are exclusive to Nobu restaurants in the u.s.

The teppan table is another new addition to the Nobu Honolulu experience, and it’s a rare one at that—it’s only one of six available at a Nobu restaurant. The set menu is comprised of three courses: a vegetable course, a seafood course and a meat course. Each course features four to five ingredients and is served up similar to a sushi tasting menu. There’s just one seating a night and 24-hour advance notice is required.

For Yuka, one highlight of that menu is the lamb. “People love it!” she says. “He cooks the lamb chop on the teppan table and he puts the [rosemary miso] sauce on and serves it.”

“It’s basically a chef’s table,” Yuka says of the two-and-a-half hour dining experience. April will bring the much-anticipated lunch service on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. also: chef Nobu himself will be in-house mid-April.

Looking forward, Matt has more ideas for the outdoor bar area, wants to start a brunch menu on Sundays and maybe add on more lunch days. All at the right time, he assures.

One thing’s for sure: if he builds it, the diners will come.

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