If I had a crystal ball, an oracle, a couple of decades ago, I never would have thought world-famous chef Nobu Matsuhisa would open a restaurant on Lanai.
But open one he did, toward the end of December at the Four Seasons Resort Lana'i at Manele Bay.
However, I do fondly remember hanging out in the swimming pool there with Nobu in the early '90s, so I knew he enjoyed visiting the island.
Nobu Lana‘i General Manager Steven Lam sips premium chilled sake served from an insulated silver pot.
The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo
I just thought that he was so busy with his restaurants in Tokyo, New York City, Perth, Cape Town, Moscow and Mexico City, among others, that tiny Lanai wouldn't be on his restaurant radar.
But in recent years, he teamed with Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, to open a restaurant in Malibu, so it was a no brainer for the two to team up for Nobu Lana'i, as Ellison now owns most of the island.
And, he reportedly adores Nobu's cuisine such as yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno in yuzu-soy sauce; and black cod with miso on butter lettuce.
NOBU LANA'I at a glance:
Where: Situated on lower lobby level of Four Seasons Resort Lana'i at Manele Bay.
Hours: From 6 to 9:30 nightly.
The menu: New-style Japanese imbued with ingredients and flavors from around the world. Everything is served family style.
Highlights: Nobu-style local ahi poke on crisp nori; 48-hour teriyaki glazed short ribs served with rocoto mustard; rock shrimp tempura with creamy-spicy sauce on salad; sushi and sashimi.
Desserts: Bento box of flourless chocolate cake with green tea ice cream; and Fuji apple and chestnut tobanyaki.
Drinks: Matsuhisa martini with ginger and cucumbers; Peruvian Caipirinha with Pisco, fresh lime, shiso and ginger beer; Hokusetsu sake selections.
Nobu by the Pool: Open from noon to 3 p.m. daily, this daytime sushi bar features spicy tuna roll, fresh sashimi roku, and soft-shell crab roll.
For reservations: Call Lanai concierge at (808) 565-2388.
"Nobu san, Larry Ellison and their partner Meir Teper came to Lanai last October to tour the island and they asked each other, 'Can we open in just eight weeks?' " Nobu Lana'i's General Manager Steven Lam told us before my husband and I enjoyed a stellar dinner last week.
"Sure!" was the answer," Lam continued. "So after two weeks of talks and contract signings, we had six weeks to open. It totally broke a record as the fastest of his restaurant openings around the world."
And, we're talking about a guy who just opened his own chef hotel at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas this month with pals Robert De Niro and Kenny G.
Lanai's resulting look will impress you, and the cuisine will take it over the top in taste as well as presentation - on Nobu's own exclusive white dinnerware.
Of course, dining there doesn't come cheap. But you can opt for Nobu by the Pool fare during the day if you don't want to bust your budget at night.
Located on the lower lobby level of the Manele Bay Hotel in the former Ihilani Restaurant, Nobu Lana'i offers sweeping views of the pool and the ocean beyond. Spinner dolphins leap and dance in schools in pristine Hulopo'e Bay offshore, humpback whales breach and play, and these days, you may just spot a ginormous yacht and sailboat cruising the coastline.
The restaurant is all open air and the back walls are massive roughhewn birch planks that look like monkeypod. Lining the front lanai are numerous cushy couch seatings, and in the middle are impressive teak tables that were handcrafted on Lanai.
"Nobu san was here through the opening process until Christmas Day," says Lam. "Nobu san actually gets his hands dirty in the kitchen. He goes in and trains his kitchen staff on all of the various details."
Lam was born in Hong Kong and moved to New York City at age six. He's served as general manager of three Nobu restaurants in the Big Apple and he returned to Hong Kong to open a Nobu there.
"Our chef on Lanai, Oyvind Naesheim, and I opened Nobu Hong Kong together, so I am pleased that he's here. Nobu Lana'i is the 26th restaurant."
Drawing upon Nobu's early sushi training in Tokyo, his life as a chef in South America, and his other travels around the world, Nobu Lana'i showcases new-style Japanese fare combined with local ingredients.
"Nobu san calls it new-style Japanese - because, while it's traditional - it's imbued with ingredients and flavors from where's he been, such as Peru.
"Eighty percent of the dishes are the same at his restaurants around the world. Then, as in particular areas such as Lanai, he sources out local ingredients and incorporates them into the menus."
The night we dined there our head server, Joe Brudzynski of Detroit, brought to our table shishito peppers flashed fried in hot oil in den miso sauce; and gourmet edamame for munching.
Some like it hot, and that would be me. So the peppers were a perfect spicy starter, and paired well with sake.
"I was here for three weeks before they even let me talk to a customer," Brudzynski said. "As we were trained we got to taste every dish on the menu, so we know how to present them to the diners."
Of course, we wanted to try Nobu san's favorites, so we dove into the new-style sashimi, thinly sliced whitefish in yuzu and soy sauce, garnished with julienne ginger and chives, sprinkled with sesame seeds and drizzled with hot sesame and olive oils.
We were speechless. Every nuance and taste was off the map. Flavors popped. It felt so right to eat such fresh seafood prepared this way.
As more diners arrived, the service team shouted, "Irasshaimase!" or "welcome to our house," just like at a sushi bar.
"Everything is served family style," our server told us the next time he approached our table. "We like to take you on a flavor and texture roller coaster - by using citrus, then olive oils, crunchy then creamy, spicy or sweet - it's all about an adventure ride of the taste buds."
I love uni, which can be an acquired taste. The way it was served at Nobu was exceptional in that it was encased in a cucumber roll with crystalized soy that added texture and crunch.
"We're looking into serving more and more locally caught catch such as opakapaka and onaga," Lam said. "The other night, we brought out several whole fish on a tray to show guests, then brought out sashimi three different ways."
With the family style of service, you may order as much or as little as you like, and spend as much or as little as you want. If all you prefer is sushi, then by all means, order just that.
When at Manele, do also check out all of the many vast improvements, such as the debut of a new sports bar, refurbished pool furnishings and new cabanas, and renovated spa.
Manele Bay's lower lobby level has been redone and is bright and cheery with rescued parrots and an honor wine bar. You may also savor the cuisine of One Forty restaurant serving upgraded breakfast and extensive steak and seafood evenings.
"The recent enhancements and offerings are in-line with our commitment to continually improve on the guest experience," said Tom Roelens, general manager of Four Seasons Resorts Lana'i."