Matsuhisa is Nobu’s sushi place on La Cienega in LA. Notice that I say “place”, not “restaurant”, because the word “restaurant” calls forth a very specific semantic matrix, where the focus is entirely on the food. Think of Iron Chef USA; the chefs are rated on Taste, Presentation, and Creativity. The food must dazzle, it must amaze. It’s performance art on your plate. Look at how Wolfgang has stacked those beets into a tower! Yes, that’s worth $200! It’s food as sex, the meal as fellatio of a particularly imaginative variety.

Good sushi, in contrast, like the inner lining of a silk kimono never revealed to the outside world, excels precisely to the extent it actively fails to assert itself. One enters the sanctum; experience unfolds; time unwinds; conversation ensues; libations lubricate; sushi materializes.

Matushisa is, very simply, the best sushi place in LA. It tries only to be a sushi place, and succeeds beyond all expectations. The excellence of the experience is in the detail. The ultimate simple piece of finely marbled toro rests on an otherwise unadorned clump of vinegared rise. The chef sequences the food you are served perfectly. The waiter discreeetly replaces one soy sauce dish with another between courses.

I must congratulate Nobu on his choice of Hokusetsu (“north snow”) sake, one of the finest jizake in Japan, one seen all too rarely at other restaurants.

Of course Nobu is creative. The yellowtail with jalapeno dish he originated has now been stolen by every sushi shop worth its gari . His modestly named “new style sushi” takes fresh fish flesh and cooks it briefly and deliciously in hot sesame oil. But these dishes both tell us something about the food we are eating, rather than simply being gratuitously “creative”.

All of this excellence comes at an amazingly reasonable price, far from the bloated $500/person tab at places like Masa , and possibly even less than you would pay in Japan for an equivalent, or inferior, sushi experience.

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