Do you want oysters on the half shell by the fire, a Kirin with sashimi while watching the game on a big screen, or hand rolls served to you in an intimate room, surrounded by Shoji screens? Nobu Gourmet in Encinitas is your place for all of these culinary cravings. At Nobu Gourmet – a sushi bar with several personalities and extensive menu of noodles, grilled fish and meats, not to mention the sakes available – there are almost too many good things to choose from, and enticing fare for everyone.Read More ...
I have never eaten sushi fireside before, and after visiting Nobu Gourmet, now I wonder, why not? Chef/Owner Nobu has infused good ideas, cuisine, and atmospheres into one successful Japanese eatery in Encinitas for nineteen years. Eclectic is the best way to describe five settings in one restaurant, and that, like the tender yellowtail cheeks or scallop roll, is very appealing.
Nobu Gourmet has five settings to please their diners. As you walk in, you can choose to dine in the sushi bar, the right section of Nobu. This comfortably large space accommodates guests with tables and booths. Nobu’s sushi bar is long, impressively white, and buzzing, populated by families, groups of sushi lovers, and couples. Many sushi chefs stand behind the bar, quick and precise in their culinary art form. There are chairs placed in front of the chefs, should guests be dining alone or choose to watch the sushi preparation up close.
Also in this section of the restaurant is the private, traditional Tatami room behind Shoji screens. The Tatami room is inviting, a room you don’t see at every sushi bar. It holds an intimate table, requiring that diners sit on a raised, carpeted surface against black silk seats. This room showcases the peaceful side of a Japanese dining experience, seemingly constructed for small groups - friendly get togethers, or perhaps colleague luncheons.
The other side of Nobu offers a different atmosphere than the sushi bar. The dimly lit space with black tablecloths, tall bamboo plants, rice paper drawings and Shoji screens provides privacy and an invitation to relax and simply enjoy eating out. This calm, left section of the restaurant boasts a fireplace as you enter, as well as chairs to sink into and enjoy the many sakes on the list. The fire was warm and flames were charming on the cool evening I went – it was easy to feel like I was in a previously unknown, exotic room of my own home. Three guests inhabited the coveted, glowing area, and didn’t move all night.
Walk deeper into this left “wing” and you’ll find a full bar with two big screen televisions, where regular patrons drink Japanese beer and martinis, and enjoy sashimi. This section of Nobu also accommodates private events, either fireside or at larger tables. Nobu creatively uses this space to accommodate romance, sports spectatorship, or the potential for partying in the back. My friend and I dined in front of the big screen and although couples, singles and what seemed to be business diners surrounded us, we were able to have quiet, uninterrupted conversation.
Not to be left out is the heated outdoor patio, where I envisioned rehearsal dinners or weeknight gatherings, large as the patio appeared. Nobu Gourmet’s location in Encinitas begs to be complimented with such an outside space where diners can be served sushi at all hours. It’s easy to find what you want at Nobu in terms of ambiance; the most difficulty is narrowing down choices from the menu.
I recommend approaching Nobu’s menu with an adventurous and experimental spirit. It’s always a welcome surprise to find unexpected appetizers, entrees or courses on a menu, and Nobu does not disappoint. The appetizers offer familiar expectations such as Edamame, though I was intrigued by a flavorful soft shell crab and Aspara-Maki, thin slices of beef wrapped around asparagus then grilled, and Ankimo, a monk fish pate. We ordered the soft shell crab and Hamachi no Kama, the broiled yellowtail cheek. Biting into the whole soft shell crab, sliced into sections, I was delighted to taste the tender crabmeat as well as receive the audible crunch that makes this dish complete. Not over-fried, not undercooked, and with fresh lemon squeezed over the panko bread crumbs, the soft shell crab appetizer sang on the palate. Sweet and meaty, it was small enough to serve as an appetizer but big enough – about the size of my hand – to satisfy crustacean cravings.
Served next were the Hamachi no Kama, two yellowtail cheeks. Plump and steaming, the cheeks resembled large filets of fish. The cheeks were not fatty, with ample meat to pull apart with chopsticks and savor before the sushi arrived. In the cheeks was the true oceanic flavor of the fish with a hint of soy.
Our server Kurt, aware of our appetite and desire to sample the entire menu, did not bring us more than two dishes at once, for which we were thankful. The sushi specials we ordered followed the appetizers: the Psycho Scallop, cucumber wrapped around spicy sauce topped with fresh scallops, the Red Tide, a spicy shrimp roll with tuna and sliced jalapenos on top, and the Crunchy Roll, a crab roll made crunchy by an outer shell of a green Japanese rice cracker. The Psycho Scallop had more of a calming effect, with sweet, mild scallops laid across rice, and a near herbal ribbon of cucumber. The Psycho Scallop roll was Zen-like compared to the zing of The Red Tide roll, inventive with jalapeno slices so thin, they seemed to be razor cut. The delicate placing of heat atop the buttery tuna delivered the desired intent to the roll: a bite at the end, with the savory taste of tuna, the neutrality of the rice, and the compliment spice of the shrimp. I would order the Red Tide again and again. The Crunchy Roll, indeed crunchy, offered a savory flavor from the rice cracker against the sweetness of the crab within. Chef Nobu’s spin on this popular roll was colorful and innovative, and care was taken with every dish when served: sushi arrived on square, white platters to make the natural colors of the ginger, wasabi, fish, and fresh lemon slices pop. None of our five senses had been overlooked.
We paced ourselves and waited for the Yosenabe entrée, assorted seafood and vegetables in a light broth at $24.00 and assorted sashimi plate at $28.00. The Yosenabe noodle dish came with a first course of subtle Miso soup and a salad with stimulating ginger dressing, and citrus and pepper in the background. The salad and soup were portioned precisely to refresh our palates and tease our taste buds pre-entrée.
The Yosenabe warmly radiated ginger and was full to the rim of its black earthenware pot, with a large filet of poached, pink salmon, butterflied jumbo shrimp, bamboo shoots, zucchini soft enough to bite into but not weighted down with broth, Napa cabbage, sliced mushrooms, thick julienned carrots, and sugary glass noodles. The salmon had a flaky texture though surrounded by broth, and the shrimp was poached to doneness, not beyond. The broth, delicate and light, reminded me of an Asian cure-all soup; with its vegetables, omega 3’s provided by the fish, and generous ginger, I felt better than I did before eating it. Two people could easily share this dish.
Our sashimi plate arrived with four pieces each of maguro, hamachi and salmon with lemon slices, wasabi, and ginger over cellophane noodles. The sashimi slices were cleanly cut and proportionate, and resembled three decks of cards. The sashimi itself was buttery and very fresh. Our plate was a symphony of pink and white, a feast almost solely for the eyes, because by now, we were actually getting full.
Our fullness was disappointing to us because the entrée menu has so much to choose from. Beyond teriyaki and Bento boxes, grilled fish and chicken are offered as well as beef, chicken, pork or squid cutlets. If it is noodles you want, hearty but healthy choices are listed front to back on Nobu’s menu; cold noodle dishes like Soba, warm noodles dishes and also Yakisoba, or stir fried noodle dishes.If you’re all about sushi, they have thirty-six different options to choose from: sashimi, rolls, even vegetarian sushi that sounds good to seafood enthusiasts. The Umeshiso Roll caught my eye - chopped prepared plum and Japanese mint – as I peeked at the vegetarian sushi on the table of the patrons next to us. There are seven vegetarian sushi options and other vegetarian fare options. It is certainly easy to feel good about what you eat at Nobu. The aromatics and freshness of the vegetables and seafood that go into the dishes we tasted left us feeling as if we had eaten healthy, even if we had eaten too much.
After dinner, with people still streaming in, we were given our food packaged up and shown around the restaurant’s two sides and many personalities: not what you would expect next door to a Longs Drugs in a strip mall. But with its different qualities, Nobu Gourmet has one common denominator; the flavors of the East delivered in countless ways. The menu variety definitely requires more than one visit to conquer.
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