Review: Food outshines service at star chef’s Buckhead outpost

Nobu's yellowtail jalapeno sashimi is an artful arrangement of six thin slices of yellowtail each topped with a jalapeno ring and set in a yuzu-ponzu sauce, with a garnish of cilantro in the center. NOBU HOSPITALITY



Nobu's yellowtail jalapeno sashimi is an artful arrangement of six thin slices of yellowtail each topped with a jalapeno ring and set in a yuzu-ponzu sauce, with a garnish of cilantro in the center. NOBU HOSPITALITY

Editor’s note: This marks the return of starred restaurant reviews, which have been suspended since March 2020. The AJC uses a four-star rating system — 1 star: good, 2 stars: very good, 3 stars: excellent, 4 stars: extraordinary. Restaurants that do not meet the criteria for stars are rated fair or unsatisfactory.

It was 1973 when chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa moved from his native Japan to Peru and opened a restaurant that incorporated Peruvian ingredients into Japanese dishes. It’s a style of cooking that has come to define Nobu, the restaurant Matsuhisa launched in 1994 with actor Robert De Niro as a partner. It since has grown into an international hospitality brand, with more than 50 restaurants and 15 luxury hotels around the world, including a shiny new tower at Phipps Plaza in Buckhead.

Since its late November debut, Atlantans have been clamoring to get into Nobu’s dining room, where a chorus of chefs from the open kitchen greets them with an inviting “Irasshaimase!”

A dimly lit main dining room at Nobu Atlanta offers a view of the sushi counter and open kitchen. Courtesy of Nobu Hospitality


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The restaurant’s flair shows throughout the 272-seat space (inspired by traditional Japanese garden pavilions, with a backlit white-onyx bar and a 12-foot-long river rock art installation), as well as on the plates (precisely selected stoneware and, of course, artfully arranged food).

The majority of Nobu’s dishes at the Atlanta location lived up to the hype.

The tuna toro with caviar appetizer ($40) was a gorgeous treat, shot through with strands of wasabi, which balanced the rich fish and caviar.

Oysters (three for $18) were a relative bargain. Each raw oyster on the half-shell was served with a different sauce. A favorite was the tart, spicy Nobu sauce, which was like a mignonette with some heat. The restaurant also does delicately fried tempura dishes very well — the okra was crisp and fresh, while the rock shrimp were addictive.

Black cod with miso ($46), Nobu’s signature dish, was a beautifully broiled sablefish fillet. Thanks to a marinade of mirin, sake, white miso and sugar, it had a shiny amber crust and bites of umami and dessert-level sweetness.

Another classic, the yellowtail jalapeño sashimi ($29), brought a petal arrangement of six thin slices of uber-fresh fish, each topped with a jalapeño ring and set in a yuzu-ponzu sauce, with a garnish of cilantro.

The restaurant feels a bit like the corporate chain it is, but executive chef Brandon Chavannes said the spring menu will see the addition of a few Atlanta-specific dishes. In the meantime, a couple of dishes that Nobu corporate regional chef Thomas Buckley brought with him from the Miami location — salmon belly sashimi with wasabi salsa ($30) on the cold menu, and baby corn with truffle honey ($19) among the hot plates — are worth the price.

Also fully satisfying were wagyu short rib dumplings ($35), amply stuffed with juicy short rib and folded so perfectly that they looked like edible origami; a playful bowl of squid “pasta,” tossed with vegetables in a sauce of garlic deglazed with sake, soy sauce and clarified butter; and the octopus miso anticucho ($37), which brought a massive platter of tender octopus coated in a spicy aji-based sauce, sweetened and seasoned by miso and honey — plus a mound of roasted potato wedges and pickled onions — with enough to take home in a very fancy doggie bag. That’s good value for the price.

The bar delivered satisfaction, too, with cocktails that highlighted darker spirits, such as the Irish whiskey-based Holy Smoke. A masu of 7-ish ounces of dry, light Devil Killer sake also was a fine pairing with a parade of nigiri and maki.

Silky and buttery, the miso-marinated black cod is a mainstay on Nobu menu's throughout the world. NOBU HOSPITALITY


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Every bite of raw fish was a delight. Slivers of fatty bluefin tuna, a muscle portion of fluke and kohada marinated in vinegar were served atop expertly shaped rice.

Service is where Nobu was lacking. The floor staff still appeared to be in training mode, and, with so many runners and plate grabbers (even when plates weren’t empty), table intimacy frequently was interrupted.

On one visit, the waiter offered to “course” the first round of food personally, sending each dish out in an order that made sense — moving from lighter dishes to heavier ones. But, after another round of food was ordered in the second hour, the offer of coursed dishes apparently expired, and the food came out when it was ready, with the delicate sushi rolls the last items to be delivered to the table.

On the strength of its brand name, reservations at Nobu are booked fully months in advance, but the bar opens at 5 p.m. each day and is first come, first served, as is the sushi bar.

Nobu’s high prices put it out of range as a regular haunt for most of us — even the valet costs $15, plus a processing fee and a tip — but it does deserve a place on the special-occasions list.

Nobu's tuna toro has strands of fresh wasabi threaded through the chopped, raw tuna, providing a surprisingly intense flavor. Courtesy of Nobu Hospitality

Credit: Nobu Hospitality

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Credit: Nobu Hospitality


3 of 4 stars (excellent)

Food: high-end Japanese, with Peruvian influences

Service: enthusiastic, but sometimes overly attentive or rushed

Recommended dishes: tiradito Nobu-style salmon belly sashimi with wasabi salsa, yellowtail jalapeño sashimi, bluefin chu-toro, wagyu short rib dumplings, squid “pasta,” black cod with miso, octopus miso anticucho, sata-andagi (Okinawan doughnuts)

Vegetarian dishes: butter lettuce salad, grilled baby gem salad, edamame, charred shishito, baby corn, vegetable hand roll, crispy rice avocado, field greens with Matsuhisa dressing, roasted cauliflower jalapeño, warm mushroom salad, eggplant spicy miso, mushroom toban yaki, grilled tofu anticucho, vegetables in spicy garlic sauce, assorted tempura vegetables (when consumed without tempura sauce)

Alcohol: full bar

Price range: $$$$-$$$$$

Hours: 5-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays; 5-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays

Parking: valet, paid self-parking in garage, and free parking at upper entrances to Phipps Plaza

MARTA station: Buckhead and Lenox stations

Reservations: highly recommended, well in advance

Outdoor dining: none

Takeout: not recommended

Address, phone: 3520 Peachtree Road, Atlanta. 470-945-8800


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