It’d be hard to improve San Diego. With perpetually perfect weather, 70 miles of coastline and an unfair allotment of famous surf spots, the city embodies the true Southern California dream.
But we tend to go there only for two reasons: its world famous zoo and its Nobu.
Located in Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo houses more than 3,500 animals and is a pioneer in the concept of open-air, cageless exhibits that re-create natural habitats, as well as the rare zoo that successfully breeds giant pandas. We love wandering the Australian Outback exhibit that was added in 2013 and were thrilled to see the even newer Africa Rocks exhibit. Our whole day was as fun as a barrel of monkeys.
Our appetite thoroughly built from our zoo wanderings, we drove to the Hard Rock Hotel in the heart of the Gaslamp District to take a table at Nobu. The Hard Rock’s casual vibe is immediately apparent, from the attire of the hotel’s staff to the wall of memorabilia collected from different celebrity guests over the years. Just to your left, a swinging glass door leads to Nobu, where a smiling host greets one and all.
San Diego may have a lot of great restaurants, but Nobu San Diego is unchallenged for world-class Japanese cuisine and sushi. Of course you know Nobu Matsuhisa, the world’s most recognized Japanese chef who created the jalapeno-topped yellowtail, rock shrimp tempura and miso black cod you see everywhere.
With over 40 sushi and sashimi options, it can be hard to order here. And that’s before you get into all the tempura, brick oven entrees and tobanyaki-style beef (in which the protein is cooked on a hot stone) on offer.
Following the lead of the jumping and chic cocktail lounge, we started our with some lychee-garnished cucumber martinis and a few more creative offerings. These included a fresh and delicious octopus carpaccio, kampachi sashimi, lobster salad with spicy lemon dressing, sashimi tacos, steamed Chilean seabass and a massive 30oz. bone-in rib-eye cooked from the brick oven.
All of our food was fresh and delicious, expertly sourced and tasting indulgent and luxurious, beautiful to the eye but without pretension or wasted opulence. Oftentimes the only addition are food required was a simple spritz of lemon.
We hope to return for Nobu San Diego’s omakase menu, which allows the chefs to create a more formal set-menu based on the ingredients they most feel motivated to serve you.
Our midday adventures also kept us from indulging too much in the restaurant’s extensive wine collection (with over 100 wines available by the glass) and sake program, which includes Nobu’s own Hokusetsu sake. Dessert? Naturally, we went for it. Stuck between the bento box with chocolate cake and matcha gelato, the s’mores, and the banana soy tobanyaki, we chose all three and have no regrets to this day.
Nobu San Diego is a dramatic adventure in dining, a masterpiece of culinary styles, techniques, ingredients and recipes. With dependably perfect service, the food and innovation turn it into a wild experience for the palate that is definitely worth a detour and much more thrilling than any wild animal in the zoo. Nobu San Diego, Hard Rock Hotel, 207 Fifth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101. Dinner only, from 5:30 p.m. (619) 814-4124, http://www.noburestaurants.com