Bob Was Here
Text by Charles W. Borden
He walked directly by our table, unmistakable, and joined a group of about 15 that had been trickling in over the previous hour. It was Robert De Niro, in town for the opening of the Moscow branch of the legendary Nobu, the 24th in the chain, on the fourth floor at the northeast corner of Bolshaya Dmitrovka and Stoleshnikov Pereulok. They sat in the center of the outside curve of the large boomerang-shaped dining area with ample windows that paint a panorama facing south towards the Kremlin and up and down Bolshaya Dmitrovka.
The story goes that sometime after Matsuhisa Nobu opened his first LA restaurant in Beverly Hills in 1989, De Niro came in and asked Nobu to open in New York. Nobu refused saying that he was still getting his Los Angeles place set up – “come back in a few years and then let’s talk,” he said. It looks like De Niro came back because there are now three Nobu restaurants in partnership with him in the Big Apple, the first in 1994.
This Nobu was brought to Moscow by Aras Agalarov, the developer of Crocus City and the luxurious Agalarov Estates. In addition to De Niro, another Nobu New York partner came to Moscow, producer Meir Teper as well as De Niro’s son Raphael. And Matsuhisa himself was in town to supervise the kitchen and to prepare the signature Nobu dishes. The restaurant staff is heavy on Nobu veterans from all over the world.
The menu of the Moscow Nobu has a selection of the signature dishes and we tried many. Our first was a bowl of edamame (400 rubles), the steamed soy bean pods with salt crystals that traditionally accompany beer, and a plate of Hot Miso Chips, Tuna and Scallop (780 rubles), fiveruble sized, tasty thin chips with a small section of topping that last just a pleasant second in the mouth. The plate of two servings disappeared almost as quickly. Next out was a plate of Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeno (630 rubles), thin sliced and fresher than any I have tried in Moscow, laid on a Yuzu Sauce and topped with a disk of jalapeno, just enough to add a little brightness. A large platter of “New Style” Sashimi of salmon (720 rubles) and scallops (700 rubles) followed, rectangular and fi nely sliced, topped with sesame and olive oil and yuzu – also very fresh.
For me the two brightest stars of a night of stars followed – first, a Lobster Salad with Spicy Lemon Dressing (1110 rubles), a plate stacked high with greens and sizeable chunks of lobster claw and large fresh and fl eshy shitake mushrooms. It has been a long time since I had such delicious lobster and a first for shitake like these. Then came several large, thick and tender chunks of Black Cod with Miso (1600 rubles), with a Sweet Miso Glaze, top-grilled light brown. We ended with a huge sushi serving: A California Roll (480 rubles), a Shrimp Tempura Roll (370 rubles) and Salmon Sushi (170 rubles) among many others.
The wine prices and selection were surprising. With seven bottles of white ranging from 1,400 rubles and eight reds from 1,700 rubles and topping out at 4,500 rubles virtually all are less than the lowest price at many Novikov restaurants.
There were some very nice selections: Mt. Nelson Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand) at 1,900 rubles and St. Francis Old Vine Zinfandel (Sonoma) at 3,600 rubles. By the glass, most wines are 500 rubles. A Kirin Ichiban beer is listed at 300 rubles. Nobu has a large list of house cocktails like the Matsuhisa Martini (750 rubles) or the Champagne 95 (950 rubles).
Born and apprenticed in Japan, Nobu got his first sushi bar in Peru where he began to develop his style. He then moved on to Argentina, back to Japan and then to Alaska before he opened up in Beverly Hills. Nobu and his restaurants regularly appear in Best of City lists.
Nobu brings an important lesson to Russia about cooking – a common complaint at even some of the top restaurants in Moscow is that they lack any heart – even though the form and presentation are great, the food lacks the fullness that a dedicated chef and staff that cares about the food bring to the table. Nobu states, “Food is imbued with the feelings and personality of the cook. Even if you were to follow my instructions faithfully, using precise amounts of identical ingredients, I am quite sure that you would never be able to perfectly recreate the same fl avors and textures that I make. For I always put something special in my food – my heart.”
It was a thrill to see De Niro in person, but it won’t take him to get me to go back, though I would be glad to have an invitation…