Now Paris has Nobu

PARIS – Some of the city’s most see and be seen restaurants are not the sort any self-respecting gourmande would set foot in. But now Paris has Nobu, the creation of Japanese chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, with outposts in New York and Tokyo, Las Vegas and New York, London and Aspen and Milan. How could anyone turn out so many trendy places that actually serve good food?

I, for one, am delighted that Matsuhisa, in partnership with actor Robert de Niro, has managed to offer us such a fine level of cuisine. And such a pretty place, all soothing light beige and warm dark brown tones, offset with shiny black onyx and polished copper. Located on what is now becoming trendy restaurant row – off the Champs Elysées on Rue Marbeuf, on the same street as restaurants Korova and Man Ray and not far from Spoon – Nobu took off immediately after opening this July.

There are problems, of course. Even though the large, two-story restaurant has room for 150 diners plus a sushi bar, diners have to fight to get in. Unless, of course, you love to dine at 6 pm.

But on to the food, which is bright, varied, full of flavor, original and at times even brilliant. On a first visit, at least, I highly recommend the tasting menu (which began at 600 francs in July and has already jumped to 650), which changes from day to day. For those less familiar with the Nobu range --- a very modern take on Japanese fare, with a mix of cooked and raw, with a huge assortment of sushi and sashimi – the tasting menu saves one from roaming aimlessly through the menu. Nobu, 53, studied to become a master sushi chef, then took off four Peru, Argentina, Alaska and then Los Angeles, where he opened the soon celebrated Matsuhisa in 1987.

His Parisian tasting menu might begin with a crisp, highly seasoned tuna tartare, or perhaps a salmon tartare anointed with a welcome touch of caviar. Then he will hit your palate with a tartare of yellowtail, or seriol, spiced with a touch of jalapeno peppers. Nobu’s most famous dish, around the world, is a beautifully cooked piece of the freshest black cod, often served in a rich, fragrant, deep black miso sauce. The menu will close with perhaps a heavenly, clear soup with stuffed shitake mushrooms floating on top. Whatever he serves, the food has an original touch, your senses are aroused by the careful presentation, by color, aroma, texture, warmth or cold.

If one orders a la carte, one can roam all over the world. One finds Florida rock shrimp served as a deep fried tempura in a creamy, spicy sauce. Peruvian-style beef rib steak arrives in a spicy sauce. Alaskan king crab claws arrive in a piquant butter sauce. And Dover sole appears in a rich black bean sauce. The skin of salmon – fat and full of flavor – is used liberally, in sushi rolls and even in salads.

My beverage of choice – chilled, crisp sake – can be found in many qualities nad many prices. The waiter, of course, will recommend the delicious and pricey (495 francs for a 30 cl bamboo bottle) for the rare Daiginjo sake, but I found the less expensive Onikoroshi, dry, rich and spicy , quite drinkable, and easier to swallow at a price of 155 francs for a 30 cl bamboo serving.

Service can vary. The youthful, extremely well-informed staff all wear that Disneyland smile. It can be a bit much, but I’ll take an inauthentic smile over snarley service any day. When the restaurant is crowded and full – which is all the time – the cadence of the service can be painfully slow. But I will return, again and again, dreaming of sea urchin tempura and eel and cucumber sushi, asparagus tuna roll and another sip of sake.

, , Paris 8. Tel : 01 56 89 53 53. Fax : 01 56 89 53 54. Closed at lunch on Saturday and Sunday. All major credit cards. From 200 to 600 francs per person, including service but not beverages.

15 rue Marbeuf
Paris 75008
Tel : 01 56 89 53 53
Fax : 01 56 89 53 54
Closed at lunch on Saturday and Sunday. All major credit cards. From 200 to 600 francs per person, including service but not beverages.