Chef Noboru Kidera has been creating superior sushi and other Japanese delicacies for years. Since 1991, he's been plying his trade at the current location of his restaurant, Nobu's Japanese Restaurant. The distinctive triangular building (that used to be an IHop in a previous incarnation) has been the anchor of a vibrant Asian dining and shopping scene on Olive Boulevard in University City. We were more than happy to swing by recently and revisit this local favorite.
The restaurant had a refreshing lack of over-the-top Asian decor that allowed diners to focus in on the cuisine, not the kitsch. We settled in with some warm sake ($7) and green tea and perused the menu of favorite Japanese dishes, some adhering to traditional norms, others with a little twist from the chef.
The Shrimp Tempura ($9, two-piece version available for $7) was a prime example of a simple dish perfectly executed. Tempura dishes are all too often heavily battered affairs, but the four pieces of shrimp we ordered, and the assorted veggies served alongside them, were ensconced in a light coating of delicate batter—just enough for a subtle texture without overwhelming the flavor of what was underneath.
Sometimes salads take a secondary position to the entrees on a menu, but Nobu's salads stood out on their own merits. The Marinated Seaweed Salad ($5) had crunchy cucumber slices in the mix to complement the unique texture of the seaweed strands, while the Tako Sunomono ($8) featured a panoply of consistencies and flavors, from the firm slices of octopus, smooth ribbons of seaweed and crunchy, tangy cucumber topped with shredded daikon radish.
Of course, sushi was the order of the day, and we chose three rolls to sample.
The St. Louis Roll ($6), touted as a 'house specialty' on the menu, consisted of tuna, avocado, pickled radish and topped with scallions and masago (smelt eggs). Surprisingly, the scallions didn't overwhelm the roll, but added just a bit of sharpness that struck a nice balance with the mild tuna and creamy avocado. In contrast, the Caterpillar Roll ($10) was more monochromatic in both texture and taste, though just as delicious. The roll was all about the subtle interplay of soft eel and sweet/salty eel sauce.
To be honest, we didn't have high hopes for the BLT Roll ($5). We assumed it'd be a gimmicky, one-dimensional dish, most likely too heavy on the bacon, which in recent years has been used way too frequently to mask a variety of sins in all manner of cuisine. Happily, we were wrong—oh so wrong. This roll was extremely well-balanced, just like the best BLT sandwiches. We could actually taste the tomato, and the bacon—instead of being overbearing—added just the right amount of salt and savory.
We finished up with a scoop of Green Tea Ice Cream ($4), one of our all-time favorite ways to cap off a sushi feast.
No funky fusions, no dumbed-down sushi, just simple, classic Japanese fare, prepared with skill and served with care. Nobu's continues to be the place to go for the real thing.
Nobu's Japanese Restaurant, 8643 Olive Blvd., 997-2303, nobusushistl.com.