Servers at both addresses have the brisk, well-drilled, impersonal and slightly numbed quality that comes of waiting on hundreds of people a day. At Nobu Fifty-Seven, one told me, “Our menu is kaiseki style, so it’s like tapas. Everything is meant for sharing.” I must have looked confused because he added, “Some dishes are going to be bigger than others.”
Nobu Fifty-Seven was given three stars in its last New York Times review, by Frank Bruni in 2005. That’s what Ruth Reichl gave the original in 1995. After three recent visits to each location, I decided that, apart from minor menu variations, any qualitative difference in the food between the two branches is too subtle for me to make out.
The chefs uptown are Taku Sato and Matt Hoyle. Downtown was led by Ricky Estrellado and Ryo Hasegawa until June, when Mr. Estrellado died suddenly. His successor has not been named. Both kitchens are models of superior ingredient shopping and consistent performance. When those classic Nobu dishes appear, they will be exactly like the last time you had them. In the case of the mayo-bathed fried shrimp, that may not be an entirely good thing. And I still think the flavor of the caviar that crowns tuna, or salmon, or yellowtail tartare gets elbowed out of the way by the wasabi-soy sauce.
But the tiradito, slices of yellowtail squirted with lemon and yuzu juice, then dotted with puréed rocoto pepper, is always wonderfully bracing. The candylike black cod is as hard to deny as ever, even if the extra sweetening Mr. Matsuhisa gives this traditional Japanese dish strikes me as somewhat shameless. The sashimi salad and the lobster shiitake salads are both better than any salad from a global chain has the right to be.
I don’t know who orders the dishes marked Nobu Now, but I tried a few. Umami Chilean sea bass: not worth it, even for the slightly exotic return of a fish that hasn’t been seen much since the ’90s. Kumamoto shooters: a thrilling series of flavors that will recall the way you felt the first time you ate at Nobu. Michele Goldsmith’s desserts, served both uptown and downtown, are modern and playful and don’t try too hard to follow the theme, whatever that is.
Over the years, the Hudson Street Nobu became something unusual, a restaurant that could serve tourists and families from around the corner with equal aplomb. But a meal at Nobu is still among the best, although not the cheapest, ways to introduce children to raw fish. And sitting at the sushi bar can still provide the intimacy that the rest of the place lacks. The chefs behind the counter may not draw the kinmedai cultists who flock to Sushi Zo or Sushi Ginza Onodera, but they know what they’re doing, and they light up when they get a customer who can tell.