Restaurant Review #6: Nobu Malibu

At Nobu Malibu, I died and went to sushi heaven. I savored the following:

Mushroom salad
Kelp Salad
Tiradito (Peruvian-style sashimi)
House Special Roll
Spicy Yellowtail Roll
Red Snapper nigiri
Mackrel nigiri
Kanpachi (young yellowtail) nigiri
Yellowtail nigiri
Avocado tempura
Shiitake tempura
Pumpkin tempura
Matcha (yes, it was!)

My friend had two shrimp tempura rolls and the kobe steak. He doesn't like seafood, so the fact that he liked his first roll enough to order a second definitely says something.

Rock shrimp with creamy spicy sauce

On a previous visit, before I realized I was allergic to shrimp, I had the rock shrimp, and those were the best shrimp I have ever had.

Nobu Matsuhisa is known for his Peruvian-influenced sushi dishes. His innovative creations have inspired many a roll gone bad at lesser restaurants, but the real thing is divine.


The tiradito cold plate consists of thin slices of halibut with a drop of hot sauce in the center of each piece. I enjoyed putting a single cilantro leaf on top of a piece of the tiradito and rolling it up with my chopsticks. I appreciated the presentation, originality, and intense flavor of this dish, but I would have prefered a more flavorful fish. Would the dish have worked with mackrel, I wonder? I could see the mackrel going with the spicy sauce, but I'm not sure about it going with cilantro. Of course, hot sauce and cilantro are strong flavors that might overpower or clash with a more flavorful fish.

The mushroom salad was to die for if you are a mushroom fan. It had a variety of sauteed mushrooms--shiitake, enoki (alien mushrooms), oyster, and more.

I tried to eat the kelp salad as a leftover the following day. I didn't like it at all, and thought the tangy dressing was a poor match for the seaweed. Not eating the dish fresh was probably part of the problem. It had white, yellow, bright green, and bright pink seaweed, making it surprisingly colorful for a seaweed salad.

The nigiri was all great. It was what it was supposed to be. Need I say more? Maybe not, but I will anyway. I especially enjoyed the red snapper, which I hadn't had before because while many places list it on their menu, it's not always available. It most closely reminds me of yellowtail, but I think I liked it even more than yellowtail (my favorite).

I didn't enjoy the kampachi, though it wasn't an issue of quality, just an issue of personal taste. I really hate the texture of shiso leaves. It's kind of like putting a think slice of scratchy cat tongue under my fish. And this fish, to me, tasted kind of soapy. Odd, I know.

Yellowtail and jalapeno cold plate

At Nobu, you can order a multitude of different kinds of vegetable tempura in sets of two instead of just getting a huge plate of mixed veggie or shrimp tempura, so I got the stuff you can't usually get - shiitakes, pumpkin, and avocado. I don't really think avocado tempura is a good idea, but I think mushroom tempura is heavenly. The high heat from deep frying seals in the mushroom's moisture, creating a fantastic and rare combination of crunchy and juicy.

I was excited about the tea because rather than dunking a bag of green tea in boiling water, it was obvious that this was real matcha, a powdered green tea mixed with a special bamboo whisk. It was a bit frothy on top--something that regular tea just doesn't do. I've never seen another restaurant serve this.

I really enjoy the atmosphere of this restaurant. The low lighting gives the restaurant a warm glow, and the place isn't too big or too noisy. It's in a somewhat secluded (and difficult to find) location, so there isn't outside noise from the highway or nearby businesses (most of which are closed at night). Our table was plenty far away from everyone else's, making it ideal for private conversation, but we did specifically request a quiet table ahead of time.

Nobu's dessert offerings include a banana filled crepe, dark and white chocolate spring rolls, a trio of creme brulees, a flourless chocolate cake, and homemade ice creams

As if the great food weren't enough, when it came time to leave, staff asked us where we were headed because PCH had just been closed again due to rain and mudslides. They called someone to make sure it really was closed, then made sure we understood the alternate route home they wrote down for us. The staff was very friendly and not pretentious at all in spite of it being an upscale restaurant that sees its share of celebrities (from what I hear). When we requested a particular table, we got it. When my friend requested that the check never get anywhere near our table so I wouldn't be preoccupied with the price since it was supposed to be a treat for me, the staff followed through. When one of my rolls had shellfish in it, which I am allergic to, they apologized about five times and re-made it immediately. Also, we werestill there about 45 minutes after closing, and almost everyone, including most of the chefs, had gone home, but no one so much as looked as us funny (even if on the inside they were wondering how anyone could possibly eat so slowly). It really felt great to be treated so well. Overall, I had to wonder why I bother eating at lesser quality restaurants when I could be having more experiences like this (if I saved my pennies--this kind of quality ain't cheap!).

This is one of my favorite restaurants and I recommend it to you highly.

The outdoor seating area

Nobu MalibuMalibu Country Mart (off PCH, where Ben and Jerry's, Marmalade, and a movie theatre are)
3835 Cross Creek Rd
Ste 18A (it's tough to find, bring their phone number with you in the car)
Malibu, CA 90265
(310) 317-9140
Hours: Mon-Thu 5:45pm-10pm
Fri-Sat 5:45pm-11pm
Sun 5:45pm-10pm

Best Santa Monica Restaurants

Indian: Nawab of India

Bangkok West Thai, Santa Monica and 6th

Raw Vegan:
Juliano's Raw

Real Food Daily

Sushi, casual: Noma

Sushi, upscale: Sushi Roku, Ocean and Santa Monica

Coffeehouse: Anastasia's Asylum

Chinese: Venice is not that far, go to Mao's Kitchen. Otherwise, Yangtze.

Italian: Fritto Misto

Mexican: Border Grill, Tacos Por Favor

Carribean: Cha Cha Chicken


Restaurant Review #5: Infuzion Cafe, Santa Monica

The worst boba I've had in Los Angeles can be found at Infuzion Cafe at 3rd and Wilshire (just off the Promenade). While I welcome boba near the Promenade and would be perfectly satisfied with this place if I lived in a less culinarily diverse city such as, say, St. Louis, Infuzion's boba just doesn't live up to LA standards or the standards of any boba-lover.

Whether or not the tapioca will be fresh and chewy or old and stale is hit-or-miss. Once cooked, boba only stays fresh for about 30 minutes, but Infuzion doesn't seem to understand this. The selection of flavors is good, but the intensity of the drinks is on the weak and watery side, perhaps because health-conscious Santa Monicans want less sugar in their drinks, perhaps because the cafe's employees don't have a knack for making good drinks. If you ask for an extra strong drink though, you may get more what you had in mind based on your experiences with places like Volcano Tea, Lollicup, and Upper House.

The staff is very friendly, and they did re-make my drink once when my first order just wasn't worth the $3.50, but I'd prefer to not need my drink re-made in the first place. Also, they offer free WiFi and one desktop computer with internet access for patrons. This place is kind of sterile though, with decor similar to a Starbucks, and not somewhere I actually want to sit and hang out. Also, the hours aren't great.

In addition to boba, they also offer other coffee and non-coffee drinks that you'd expect at a coffee shop.

Infuzion Cafe
1149 3rd Street
Santa Monica, CA 90403
Mon - Fri: 6:30am-7pm
Sat: 7am-9pm
Sun: 8am-6pm
Infuzion Cafe on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Review #4: Tapioca Express, West LA (now closed)

Tapioca Express has an amazing array of flavors, including rose and watermelon. My rose icy was disappointing, but I think it would be great as a creamy drink, and the light plum was just what I had in mind. They also use fresh fruit in some drinks when in season, like honeydew and canteloupe in the summer. Also, their boba is notably fresh, and has the perfect amount of subtle sweetness for those of you who don't have the kind of maddening sweet tooth that I do.

The other cool thing about this place is that in spite of being a chain located in a conspicuously pink strip mall and in spite of having to contend with blender noises from all the frozen drinks it makes, Tapioca Express has managed to create a certain degree of atmosphere by having sleek furniture, bamboo plants, very friendly service, the lowest prices in the area (your drink with boba after tax is only $2.71), a comfy couch, pale blue walls, magazines, free WiFi (no electrical outlets, though) and best of all, a babbling brook that runs along one wall next to your table. In terms of atmosphere, they have outdone every other boba shop.

Tapioca Express also serves a few Thai dishes and appetizers. I like the vegetarian eggrolls: they're small, very crispy, made to order, and served steaming hot. There are cooked vermicelli noodles on the inside, along with the usual melange of cabbage and carrots. The rolls are served with a thin sweet and sour sauce that tastes perfect. Finally, the service is always friendly.

Tapioca Express
11870 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025

Restaurant Review #3: Upper House, Sawtelle, West LA (now closed)

Upper House, on Sawtelle in the two-story shopping center near the corner of Olympic, is hands-down the best place to get your boba fix, and believe me, I have shopped around. They have a somewhat small menu, and quirky hours (2pm-midnight), but their honeydew frappee with boba is otherwordly. Upper House's boba is extra sweet (probably soaked in a sugary syrup) and they put it into your drink while it's hot and fresh, making the first few sips, with their juxtaposition of hotwarmgooeysweet and coldicysmoothsweet, pure bliss.

Upper House
2130 Sawtelle Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Upper House Tea Shop on Urbanspoon

Random Food Tip #1-Tomatoes

A refrigerated tomato is a mushy tomato, and a mushy tomato is not a tomato. Store your tomatoes at room temperature for optimum tomatoey bliss. And um, don't buy those pinkish orange ones at Vons.


Restaurant Review #2: Ngoma, Mid-Wilshire

Ngoma is a pan-African restaurant that serves specialties from all over the continent and discourages the use of silverware. In fact, it is the only pan-African restaurant in LA, which is rather exciting.

The service was extremely friendly and happy to explain the dishes. I didn't feel intimidated at all, even though the food was new to me. The food is inexpensive and generously portioned. The most exciting thing, in addition to having permission to eat a messy, saucy chicken dish with my hands, was my discovery of a delightfully gooey ball of stuff called fufu. Its consistency reminds me of mochi, though it's not as gooey, and it's not a dessert item. According to my research, fufu is commonly eaten in sub-Saharan Western and Central Africa. "It is a starchy accompaniment for stews or other dishes with sauce. You tear off a bite-sized piece of the fufu, shape it into a ball, make an indentation in it, and use it to scoop up the soup or stew or sauce, or whatever you're eating. In Western Africa, Fufu is usually made from yams, sometimes combined with plantains. In Central Africa, fufu is often made from cassava tubers. Other fufu-like foods, Liberia's dumboy for example, are made from cassava flour. Fufu can also be made from semolina, rice, or even instant potato flakes or Bisquick. All over Africa, making fufu involves boiling, pounding, and vigorous stirring until the fufu is thick and smooth." Click here for source and recipes.

The restaurant was fairly empty and quiet, with low lighting and more than ample space between the tables--great for a private conversation. If you want to take a foodie date somewhere off the beaten path, Ngoma is a great choice.

5358 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Cross Street: Detroit Avenue
Telephone: 323-934-1595
Hours: Tue.-Thu., 11AM.-10 PM; Fri. 11:00 am-11:00 PM; Sat. 12 Noon AM.-11 PM; Sun.12:00 Noon- 7:00 PM
$6.99 Lunch Special is served from 11:00 AM to 2:30 PM, Tuesday through Friday.
Ngoma on Urbanspoon


Restaurant Review #1: ZaZen, Marina Del Rey (now closed)

ZaZen's sleek decor, creative (sort of) dishes with raw fish, and very red interior lend it the trappings of trendiness, but its not-happening-enough location on the Venice pier and the large TV screen prevent it from being truly so. This is the type of place that the hopelessly hip go for a nice date, where the boy barely disguises his greater interest in the game while the girl wonders why her prettiness isn't enough to draw all his attention to her. I'm not a fan of trendy restaurants, and the place that tries and fails at trendiness doesn't make me any happier.

Their extensive drink list features a number of special concoctions guaranteed to knock you off your feet rather quickly--which makes sense, since the atmosphere screams pop seduction. Since I'm not much of a drinker, I always appreciate an actual drink list to prevent me from ordering something embarrassing (but tasty!) like an amaretto sour. Of course, who's to say that tried-and-true girlie drinks are any less embarrassing than the latest trendy martini?

The food is interesting and pretty good, though sushi purists won't find much to appreciate. After all, the menu is yet another Nobu wannabe: Latin-influenced raw fish. But that's fine for lots of people.

I went on a Monday night, and the restaurant was nearly empty, but hey, it was Monday. Based on the atmosphere, it strikes me as more of a weekend night, pre-club type of place. The thing is, ZaZen is clearly not a place of culinary or aesthetic inspiration. It's very LA in its imitation of supposed hipness. But if that's you, then there's no reason you won't enjoy ZaZen, and though it's not me, I'd much rather be dragged here before a night of dancing than to El Cholo.

Parking on the pier is difficult, so you'll probably want to valet it for $5. The valet, which serves the entire pier, is on the slow side.

30 Washington Blvd
Marina Del Rey, CA 90292
(310) 305-4010