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Note: Click here for a more recent review of Nobu.

A vendor invited me out to lunch at Nobu on Friday. That meant he was paying. We had no reservation, but we were waiting by the door when they opened at 11:45am, and we were seated immediately. My host had done this before, so apparently it’s a dependable way to get into Nobu without a rez. We only had to promise that we’d vacate our table by 1:30pm. It was my first visit.

For lunch, Nobo offers a wide variety of sushi and sashimi plates, soups and side dishes, several sushi/sashimi assortments in the $23-$28 range, a prix fixe package at $20.04, and the chef’s omakase at “$55 to $65 and up.” There’s also a two-column list running to a closely-spaced half-page, which the waiter called “Chef Nobu’s signature dishes.” The menu had another name for them, but the waiter’s term sticks in my memory.

The waiter advised us to skip the sushi, and to order 4 or 5 of the signature dishes, which he told us are served “Tapas style.” That means they come one at a time, to be shared by the table. We chose 5 of the signature dishes – basically the ones the waiter recommended – as well as the Spicy Seafood Soup, which my host had enjoyed on his previous visit. The waiter’s descriptions went by at blazing speed, and frankly I wasn’t entirely sure what we’d chosen. He told us about a few special dishes not on the menu, and we chose one of these, but I always wonder why a restaurant can’t be bothered to put the daily specials on a piece of paper. I think Nobu could manage it. At any rate, it all sounded good.

The Spicy Seafood Soup came first, and it reminded me of that old commercial about the soup so chunky you want to eat it with a fork. There was just an amazing amount of seafood packed into the soup bowl. Then came yellowtail with cilantro and jalapeno peppers; I thought the last two ingredients slightly overwhelmed the first. It was the only dish about which I had even the slightest reservations. Our second signature dish was kobe beef, thinly sliced, and prepared with two kinds of spices. A tuna sashimi salad was sheer perfection, with several large slices of rare tuna. Then came squid pasta (hard to explain), and finally a black sea bass so rich and flavorful that I can still taste it.

I can see why the waiter steered us away from sushi. My host, who had ordered sushi the last time he visited, confirmed this. The so-called signature dishes are extraordinary and without parallel. The sushi, he said, is of course among the best that can be had, but doesn’t stand out from what’s available elsewhere quite so conspicuously.

With five dishes shared among two of us, plus soup, I left Nobu quite full, and yet sorry that the meal was over. Every dish was creative, full of flavor, perfectly seasoned, and prepared with an obvious attention to every detail. While enjoying our own meal, my host and I watched the parade of plates arriving at adjoining tables. No matter what you order, every dish entertains the eye as much as the taste buds. They are all works of sculpture – “Art in Food,” as my host observed. He promised to invite me back again, this time for dinner, in a couple of months or so. I can hardly wait.

Nobu (105 Hudson Street at Franklin Street, TriBeCa)

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