99 Essential Restaurants 2014

Matsuhisa

photo by Anne Fishbein

Once upon a time, Nobu Matsuhisa was a young Japanese cook who moved to Peru and then to Alaska (where his first American restaurant burned down), only to come to Los Angeles, get discovered by a movie star and become one of the most famous chefs in the world. If this sounds more like a parable than an origin story, it kind of is. It’s also true, and the restaurant where you can still tangibly feel the chef’s personal history is not his fish museum on the sea in Malibu but his original Matsuhisa, which he opened in 1987. Despite the chef’s threats to close it, Matsuhisa remains — a small, unpretentious, downright cozy joint where you can order classic Nobu dishes (tiradito, black cod with miso), along with predictably wonderful sushi, tempura, kushiyaki and donburi bowls. You’ll see more movie stars and beautiful people eating uni shooters at Nobu Malibu — or Nobu Beijing or Milan or Dubai or Moscow or Monte Carlo or Hong Kong or … right — but part of the enormous pleasure of Matsuhisa is that not only won’t you see them (probably), but that it’s not the point. Instead, think about the young chef working over a fish in an Anchorage kitchen almost 40 years ago, and imagine what it took for him to get here.

-- Amy Scattergood