Say aloha to the Pineapple Island’s newest dining destination— Nobu Lana’i.
UPON HEARING THE ANNOUNCEMENT THAT ORACLE CEO LARRY ELLISON WAS BUYING THE ISLAND OF LANA’I, LOCALS and visitors alike questioned the future of the island and its two five-star resorts. While Ellison clearly has the pocketbook to support a top-notch refurbishment of the Four Seasons Resort Lana’i at Manele Bay and Lodge at Koele, the question was whether he would invest the time, money and creative energy to restore these luxury properties to the internationally acclaimed caliber that was achieved when they opened more than two decades ago. If the new Nobu Lana’i is any indication, the answer is a resounding “yes.”
The newly remodeled lobby of Lana’i at Manele Bay immediately provides a glimpse into Ellison’s transformative vision. ˛ e Asian-inspired murals that once dominated the resort’s dÃ©cor have been replaced with a much cleaner, calmer and more modern feel. The decor inside Nobu Lana’i, located o˝ the lower lobby, takes you one step closer toward that perfect Zen vacation moment. Pouring out into an extensive patio with unobstructed postcard views of Hulopo’e Bay, the restaurant’s design scheme is rooted in nature, incorporating light woods and materials in their most natural forms and colors, clearly in an effort not to overshadow Lana’i’s alluring scenery and the restaurant’s innovative cuisine. While Nobu Lana’i is the first Nobu restaurant in the Four Seasons’ portfolio, it is the second Nobu co-owned by Ellison, who is also a partner of Nobu Malibu in California. Nobu Lana’i is a partnership between Ellison and Nobu Restaurants, which is owned by Hollywood film producer Meir Teper and actor Robert De Niro, and led by acclaimed celebrity Chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa. Given Ellison’s master vision for Lana’i as “a model for a sustainable enterprise,” it is clear that Chef Nobu, who is known for his minimalist “waste not, want not” approach to cooking, was the perfect fit.
“Lana’i’s abundance of nature really drew me to the island,” says Chef Nobu. “My dream for the near future is to develop my own vegetable farm and serve dishes using organic vegetables, as well as provide educational opportunities to teach sustainable and healthy cooking, and continue to highlight and distinguish Lana’i from the other Hawaiian Islands.”
Nobu Lana’i’s executive chef, Oyvind Naesheim, who has worked for the company for more than a decade, is already making progress toward Matsuhisa’s (and ultimately, Larry Ellison’s) vision for Lana’i, with the establishment of Nobu Garden in Lana’i City. “Like Chef Nobu, it’s been my dream for a very long time to have a garden for the restaurant, but when you are in big cities, it is not really possible,” says Naesheim. “But here, we have half an acre right now. We are currently growing spinach, tomatoes, edamame, eggplant, chilies and green onion. I have also got the staff involved, because I truly feel that after you see what goes into growing the produce, you are much more respectful of the product,” he adds.
In addition to Nobu’s signature new-style Japanese dishes, like the rock shrimp tempura, bigeye tuna sashimi salad with matsuhisa dressing (one of Chef Nobu’s personal favorites) and the black cod with miso—which Nobu Lana’i prepared as perfectly as any metropolitan Nobu—Naesheim has also created a Nobu Lana’i signature menu. A favorite from the locally infused Signature Menu is the Kona kampachi with yuzu miso and jalapeno salsa. Prepared with a sustainably farm-raised almaco jack from the Hawaiian Island, the dish is similar to Nobu’s famous yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno (which we learned was first created as an improvisation when Chef Nobu ran out of soy sauce, while cooking with Bev Gannon on Maui). The Poke Trio “Nobu Style” and grilled asparagus with tosazu and furikake are also standouts on the Signature Menu.
“One thing that I really fell in love with from Chef Nobu is that once you have trained with him and have earned en executive role in one of his kitchens, he really gives you freedom,” says Naesheim. “And getting that freedom means that I have access to the best products ever, to turn them into something wonderful,” he added.
Chef’s Naesheim’s newest creation, Nobu’s Hot Lava Rock, which will be appearing on the Nobu Lana’i Signature Menu in the near future, takes Ellison’s challenge to use Lana’i’s natural resources literally. Slabs of lava rock, cut from the island, are heated under an open flame and served with thinly sliced Wagyu beef, scallops, shrimp and vegetables, which cook on the rock as it sizzles away in the center of the table. The new dish and its Lana’i-centric presentation were so well received by Ellison that it is now his favorite Nobu Lana’i offering.
Keeping with the consistency of Nobu’s international brand, Nobu Lana’i’s sake and cocktail program are exceptional. Nobu Lana’i exclusively serves Hokestsu sake from Sado Island, Japan because the cold climate in Hokestsu (which means “northern snow”) is ideal for premium sake brewing. While Nobu Lana’i offers an array of Hokestsu sake, the delicate and refined YK35, is Chef Nobu’s favorite. Nobu Lana’i’s specialty cocktail highlights include the Matsuhisa Martini with ginger and cucumbers and Peruvian Caipirinha with Pisco, fresh lime, shiso and ginger beer. And if you can’t decide between dessert and one last drink as you gaze down the cliffs towards the moonlit Pacific, opt for the Suntory Whiskey Cappuccino, a cappuccino brulÃ©e, topped with crispy cocoa nibs, milk-made ice cream and finished with Suntory whiskey-infused foam. It’s simply perfect.
Currently, Nobu Lana’i is only opened for dinner service (6:00 to 9:30 p.m.). However, Chef Nobu’s fresh sashimi and famous spicy tuna and soft-shell crab rolls (yes, he was the first to create those widely popular hand rolls) are served poolside at the Four Seasons Resort Lana’i at Manele Bay pool daily.
Nobu Lana’i is located at the Four Seasons Resort Lana’i at Manele Bay, 1 Manele Bay Road. Reservations recommended, (808) 565-2832 or www.noburestaurants.com/lanai.