“Every time I go back, something’s different. I realized how much I loved Japan after I left.”
- Nobuo Fukuda, in Kakehashi: A Portrait of Chef Nobuo Fukuda by Andrew Gooi
In 2007, Chef Nobuo Fukuda was voted Best Chef of the Southwest by the James Beard Foundation for his work at the (now closed) Sea Saw restaurant in Old Town Scottsdale. Fast forward 10 years and he is still a Valley icon, revered by chefs and diners as one of the most instrumental figures in establishing the Arizona food scene.
Nobuo Fukuda’s story is a multifaceted one. He left Japan to explore the America with which he had become fascinated as a youth. A job at Benihana landed him in Arizona, but his desire to dig deeper into our culture found him in the White Mountains of Arizona, as a ski patroller at the Sunrise Ski Park & Resort for 10 years. What compelled him to stay here and hone his craft as a world-class chef? Not sure, but we are thrilled he did.
Hubby and I found ourselves seated at the 4-person bar at Nobuo at Teeter House treating ourselves to one of Nobuo’s multi-course omakase meals. These coveted spots had to be reserved 4 weeks in advance for many of the items featured are flown in from afar. With no allergies or dislikes, we were completely at his disposal. He started the meal by explaining his philosophy of cooking, which he described using the Japanese word kakehashi.
According to the documentary “Kakehashi” by Andrew Gooi, kakehashi means “bridge” and is the story of finding “balance between traditional-style Japanese food and non-traditional flavors from Western cooking”.* It is a story of Nobuo’s love of both cultures, of having left Japan for the US, but still longing for home. He describes it as a feeling of being between two worlds, and that no matter how much he misses Japan, he knew that to grow as a person, he had to leave. It is a story that speaks to me, and no doubt to many who have left behind a way of life that they loved for something different and unknown.
Nobuo at Teeterhouse is located at 622 E. Adam in Heritage Square in downtown Phoenix, and is open daily for lunch and dinner, with the exception of Mondays. The menu changes seasonally, but to stay on top of special events, you can subscribe to their website at http://www.nobuofukuda.com/.
Course 1: 9 Small Bites
Top Row (L to R): Chilled egg custard, also known as chawanmushi, with shrimp meat, topped with yuzu zest, osetra caviar and a touch of gold leaf.
House-made tofu, soybean soy sauce, fresh ginger, chives, and shaved bonito flakes.
Hot Chawanmushi: David Jordan Two Wash Ranch duck eggs puréed with foie gras, topped with sugar and torched like crème brûlée.
Middle Row (L to R): Brussels sprouts marinated with a honey/soy mix.
Campari tomato (poached) with peppers and Japanese mountain potato, in a tomato gelée.
Apple stuffed with kimchi.
Last Row (L to R): Rambutan with tangerines and Bob McClendon’s sweet smoked corn.
Thinly-sliced Japanese cucumber with radish in a plum wasabi vinegar.
Grilled cauliflower with sesame sauce, which I would have licked clean had I not been sitting right in front of Nobuo.
For the second course, we were treated to another group of small bites, this time of sashimi. We were told to start right and end left, and to try everything in between in no specific order.
Course 2: Sashimi
From right to left: Sweet Kumamoto oyster in tomato water with Santa Barbara uni and wasabi oil. Hard to top that, and I could have easily stopped here, but there was so much more…
House-cured sockeye salmon, wrapped around a soy-glazed almond, and topped with basil and pecorino cheese. I understand this is a classic Nobuo dish.
Tuna with roasted beet purée and fresh ginger.
Yellowtail (hamachi) with grapefruit, avocado, and fresh ginger in ponzu with a touch of white truffle oil.
Grilled octopus from the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, atop fresh mozzarella cheese and a cherry tomato, seasoned with olive oil, aioli and pink peppercorns.
Carpaccio of fluke with ginger and garlic oil, topped with crunchy sesame seeds.
Big eye tuna in fermented soy bean sauce, a flavor that reminds me of Japan.
Amberjack “ceviche-style” wrapped around pickled ginger and Japanese basil (shiso), topped with fried taro threads.
Course 3: Guinea Fowl
The third course was the most creative presentation of guinea fowl I have ever seen. Also from Two Horse Ranch, the guinea fowl was brined and marinated for 24 hours in a 15 spice rub, then roasted and then crisped Peking-duck style. This dish falls in my top ten list of most memorable meals. It was O.U.T.S.T.A.N.D.I.N.G.
Course 4: Japanese Wagyu Beef
Miyazaki Wagyu Beef is arguably the best beef that Japan has to offer. It is decadent to the core, tasting almost as if the meat had been injected with its own marrow. Chef Nobuo has visited the farm and carries the papers of the cattle that he buys. He marinated the beef and presented it raw so that we could sear it lightly over individual grills.
Courses 5 & 6: Shabu Shabu and Soup of Kinmedai
Shabu Shabu is a Japanese hotpot dish where one cooks meat, fish and vegetables in a lightly seasoned broth. There was a small bowl of parchment paper with a lovely broth seasoned by kelp and tea-smoked chicken feet that we used to cook some line-caught kinmedai (golden eye snapper). We also had Napa cabbage, mushrooms, and daikon radishes for “shabu-ing”, plus some ponzu sauce for dipping. Nobuo instructed us to cook the meat ever so slightly, so as to eat when the exterior is warm but the inside is a tad still raw. Once the meat and vegetables were gone, Nobuo poured the broth into a soup bowl with clams and mitzuba (Japanese parsley).
Course 7: Dessert
A perfect close to a perfect meal was the Japanese cotton cheesecake, flavored with soy maple caramel and blueberry ginger compote. You may remember that this meal was on my 2017 Restaurant Bucket List. https://www.texaztaste.com/2017-restaurant-bucket-list/. One down, and nine to go…be sure to hang around for more! Kampai!
* Andrew Gooi is a Malaysian born filmmaker and James Beard nominee, who called the Valley his home until February when he and his family relocated to Seattle. Check him out at foodtalkies.com.
While Valley chefs were shut out from a James Beard nomination for (yet) another year in a row, you can find the nominees for the James Beard Foundation awards at https://www.jamesbeard.org/blog/the-2017-james-beard-award-nominees.
All photos and opinions by Marci Symington for texAZtaste.com.