Monday, August 07, 2006

New York Stories, Part 2: Nobu vs. Pink's

On La Brea & Santa Monica, right in the heart of Hollywood, is a famous, famous place called Pink's. It's a hot dog stand, and you can get one made just about any way you like. Long for a Long Island dog? You got it. Want it kosher? For sure! Willing to wait 90 minutes in line? You go hurry and wait then.

As mentioned, last week I spent about 5 days in New York with the new girlfriend. We stayed at this hotel called Dream. You can look it up at No, I didn't dream much, but it wasn't bad either, and the location was great. The photos, however, look better than in reality.

Which is sort of how my experience with the expensive, exclusive restaurant Nobu went. Okay, I must clarify here. There's Nobu, and then there's Nobu Next Door. Nobu Next Door is for schmucks like me who can't get a reservation at Nobu, or don't want to plan in advance, and then take probably the worst table in the room. Nobu Next Door is slightly cheaper, and it's doubtful you will ever see a famous face in the room, other than your own. Plus, if you ARE a schmuck like me, you'll even wait 90 minutes to get a table there!

I have two L.A. friends who highly recommended Nobu/Next Door. The first is my AD friend. Apparently, he was working on K-19 with Harrison Ford a few years ago in Nova Scotia. He had a weekend off and decided to see New York. So, he asked Mr. Ford's people to make some phone calls, and they did, securing a table for two at the lovely Nobu Restaurant. That's how you do it, folks. You get the royal treatment, or you go next door, like me.

My other friend may or may not have actually visited NND, but he talked like he had, as he usually talks. But he pointed out that Nobu and NND both share the same kitchen. Both are rated highly and they are always in the Top-10 lists. Everyone talks about them like they're frickin' in the Garden of Earthly Delights. And so I insisted to the GF we go there, despite her heavy pleas to go to Gotham Bar & Grill.

But for the record, I've been to at least 5 restaurants here in Los Angeles that are way more interesting, and frankly, way better in quality than NND. Not to mention way cheaper.

I'll name two: Fat Fish and Arado. Both have Korean owners, by the way. Arado is in Koreatown and serves the best chirashi I've ever eaten. Fat Fish is in West Hollywood, and EVERYTHING on Nobu Next Door's menu is available there, but at slightly HIGHER prices.

At Fat Fish, I recommend the shrimp tempura appetizer, seaweed salad, albacore carpaccio, and everything on their sushi menu. Even the dessert is fantastic. I can't remember what we ordered, but there were two of them, and they were incredible. We couldn't resist sharing a bottle of Sapporo with the tempura. And throughout dessert, we each had three rounds of chilled Patron shots. (Yup, they have a full liquor license!)

R23, which is also in my top 5 here in L.A., does a kick-ass chirashi for lunch, but that's not what you go there for. You go there to impress a date, not only for your taste in food and decor, but for the fact that you know how to get to a place that is nearly impossible for a visiting tourist to find.

I also like Zen Grill, the one on 3rd near the Beverly Center and across from that overpriced yuppie place, Sushi Roku. And then there's the ever-dependable Mishima, which has gone downhill, but is always great for what they do best: noodles. I can also name the Japanese restaurant at the New Otani Hotel, Thousand Cranes, and Daikokuya ramen, both in Little Tokyo. Thousand Cranes has unbeatable ambience with a beautiful Japanese garden outside, as well as a Kobe beef sukiyaki or shabu shabu. Daikokuya is simply the best for ramen in L.A., hands down.

Now where were we? Oh yeah. Dissing Nobu Next Door. I can't say how Nobu is, nor can I say I've ever eaten at Matsuhisa. But someone who names those places as their favorites either has money to burn, or knows too little to really name a good place without risking the shame of naming something that hasn't been critically (and celebrity) acclaimed.

Me and my lovely partner ordered the Chilean sea bass, sashimi salad with Matsuhisa sauce, four shrimp tempuras, two string bean and two asparagus tempuras, several nigirizushis (uni, Japanese mackerel, albacore with asparagus, eel) as well as dessert. They also lay claim to some exclusive sakes, which doesn't make sense, because the one we ordered (Onigoroshi) is the same that we order at Mishima, Fat Fish and the place I go to on Tuesday nights, Miro Sake House.

But the real topper here is when the waiter asked if we wanted to order flat water. Now, I love my waters, and, I love most bottled FLAT waters, but particularly Evian's and Pellegrino's. But my absolute favorite is Vittel, which is hard to get here in the States. Also, I'm from Seattle, which has excellent tap water, and I think the water from those public fountains all around Italy are delicious. So, when the waiter brought back an ordinary bottle of Fiji, me and the GF just about lost it!

The waiter placed the Fiji water in a nice square metal holder, but that still didn't make it any fancier. (Someone please tell me they serve better water at Nobu!!! And, by the way, do they even make a Fiji with bubbles?)

As for the food, I'd say the Chilean sea bass was very good, but it's hard to screw up Chilean sea bass. The sashimi salad had way too much Matsuhisa sauce, which I swear tastes similar to Trader Joe's teriyaki sauce. The shrimp tempura was frickin' bad, bad, bad, especially compared to the ones at Fat Fish. The uni was alright, but most of the sushi was just subpar. I'm surprised they even serve it. It seems like merely an afterthought there. The dessert was so bad we left most of it on the plate.

Now despite the food, here's my greatest critique. You know those little chopstick placeholders? NND uses some type of black rock, which you can find at any landscaper's shop. However, my chopsticks, no matter how carefully and delicately I placed them, kept sliding off the rock. It was so stupid I finally just put the rock aside and rested my chopsticks on my plate, which my GF thought was just rude and insulting.

And she was right. After all, the devil is in the details, and NND needs to be a bigger devil than this Hollywood Asian. That's for sure.

Now going back to Pink's. Same long wait. Same notoriety. Different menus. Big difference in price. But at least I can understand Pink's. Plus, they treat you just like any other schmuck with $10 to spare.

Nobu Next Door? No thanks. Next time, we're going to Gotham Bar & Grill. Same price as Nobu, but without the hassle. And I probably won't get bitchslapped by my girlfriend afterward.

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