Silicon Valley has never been a center of haute cuisine. Rising rents, high local fees, and acute labour shortages make it difficult for high-end restaurants to turn a profit, despite the area’s concentration of wealthy people looking to strike deals over dinner.
But the tech elite still needs to eat.
Nobu, Wall Street’s favourite deal-making restaurant, has opened its first outpost in the Bay Area — a smaller version of the massive Nobu restaurants found in cities like New York, Tokyo, and Qatar. Nobu Palo Alto is located about halfway between the offices of Facebook and Google, and is inside a hotel owned by Larry Ellison, the billionaire founder of Oracle.
We toured the restaurant and tried the food to see if Nobu Palo Alto can bring an end to the fine-dining drought in Silicon Valley. Take a look.
Nobu Palo Alto is located in the Larry Ellison-owned Epiphany Hotel, which is currently being rebranded as a Nobu Hotel. It's not the first time the tech icon and chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa have partnered. The pair co-owns Nobu restaurants in Malibu and Hawaii.
Nobu Palo Alto -- restaurant No. 32 in chef Matsuhisa's empire -- aims to deliver the same hugely popular dishes and clubby scene as other Nobu locations worldwide.
Another popular dining option is to reserve a meeting room in the hotel. Ross Boykin, the restaurant's general manager, said most tech executives prefer the private setting.
Boykin wouldn't name names, but he said the restaurant has been visited by tech executives and 'pioneers' from nearby companies, including Facebook, Google, Apple, and Instagram.
Most people will want to pop into the hotel's ground floor, where the restaurant is. Collapsible walls allow guests to people-watch on the streets of downtown Palo Alto.
'We don't like to be too stuffy,' Boykin said. He added that the plain teak tables and patio space help create a family-style atmosphere, where businesspeople can 'let their hair down.'
Nobu offers a premium selection of sakes, but the restaurant is also known for its original cocktails. Every month, Nobu bartenders participate in a challenge that's like 'Top Chef.'
In the Grand Cordon competition, the bartenders are given an ingredient that they must incorporate into a cocktail. The best drink is featured at Nobus around the world.
A recent challenge asked bartenders to incorporate monk fruit, a melon that is about 300 times sweeter than sugar. The winning Nariyuki cocktail, out of Malibu, is made with Atlantico Platino Rum, Disaronno amaretto, egg white, pineapple, monk fruit, and yuzu.
It costs $A25. The drink burst with tropical flavours. We bet it would taste even better poolside.
Nobu Palo Alto, like other Nobu restaurants located in hotels, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It does this to better accommodate guests, as well as executives who power-lunch.
The culinary team has adapted Japanese flavours for three distinct menus.
A popular breakfast item is the jidori chicken and waffles served with wasabi-infused maple syrup. The chicken comes from a Japanese poultry breed that our server described as the 'Wagyu of chicken,' because of its superior quality and lofty price.
The combination of sweet and spicy flavours played well, but the dish was otherwise an unsurprising take on a Southern staple. The jidori chicken and waffles costs $A35.
A power-lunch might include some Nobu sushi classics. The restaurant receives shipments of fish imported from Japan 'all day long,' according to Boykin.
The yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño is one of the best known dishes created by Chef Matsuhisa. 'It is a simple dish, but full of flavour; the heat of the jalapeño enlivens the milder yellowtail,' the chef told food blog First We Feast. I would have eaten it by the fistful.
The bluefin and yellowfin toro tartare with caviar is made with the flavorful bits of tuna that don't make the cut for as sashimi or sushi. It's frozen and mixed with garlic and onion.
The $A50 dish gets a kick from the dashi wasabi pepper dipping sauce and melts in your mouth.
The dish landed Nobu in hot water about 10 years ago when the bluefin tuna was named an endangered species. Chefs like Gordon Ramsey swiftly removed the fatty pink fish from their menus, but Nobu refused. Instead, it added a note to its menu asking diners to consider an alternative. The World Wildlife Fund still lists the bluefin tuna as an endangered species.
A personal favourite was the tai agave sashimi, which features thinly sliced Japanese red snapper sashimi with an aji amarillo (a Peruvian chilli pepper) and agave dressing.
It costs $A47.
A spinach salad topped with dehydrated tofu skins and a Japanese olive oil cost $A35 that I would have preferred to spend on something a little more elaborate.
The chefs flexed their culinary skills with this whole-fish showstopper. A sea bass prepared tempura-style and served with dry miso and a tomato-based soy sauce was a visual delight.
The cost of the whole fish is based on market prices.
We went in for a second round of drinks and tried the signature lychee and elderflower martini. The $A25 cocktail contains Spring 44 Vodka, St. Germain, and lychee (a sweet summer fruit). The sugary concoction added a dose of indulgence to the meal.
I took a break and stepped in to the kitchen. I was unsurprised to find chefs wearing Apple Watches -- a pretty clear indication that the restaurant is based in Silicon Valley.
Young chefs of every ethnicity hustled in the kitchen. A diverse staff is a reflection of Chef Matsuhisa's style, which blends Japanese and Peruvian influences, according to Boykin.
The presentation was simple and clean. When the server set the plates down in front of us, he rattled off the exotic ingredients used in each piece. The sashimi glistened before us.
To be honest, I had no idea what I was eating. I lost track during the server's monologue. But each piece of melt-in-your-mouth sashimi tasted fresher than the last.
I was prepared to refuse dessert, but Boykin insisted we try the white chocolate namelaka. 'We want you to feel lighter than when you walked in,' he said.
White chocolate panna cotta topped with orange tapioca pearls, strawberries, citrus fruits, and shiso syrup was so refreshing and light, it acted as a palette cleanser.
The dessert costs $A25.
The meal gave a whirlwind tour of Japanese, Peruvian, and Californian flavours, and was a feast for the eyes as much as my stomach.
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