Phoenix may not seem like a beacon of Asian culture, or one of turn-of-the-century history, or one of nationally acclaimed cuisine, but Heritage Square’s Nobuo at Teeter House proves that it could be all of those things.
Headed by chef Nobuo Fukuda, a 2007 James Beard Award-winner for Southwest Chef, Nobuo serves small but daring delicacies that are more than worth their expensive prices.
Downtown residents who like Sens Asian Tapas need to try Nobuo at least once. It’s like Sens’ dad, who taught Sens everything it knows. Nobuo has perfected the art of Asian tapas, with servings ranging from light snacks to full entrees.
Before entering Nobuo, a plaque notes that the building was constructed in 1899. The Teeter House is named after Eliza Teeter, who owned the house from 1911 to 1965. Its subtle signs of history, from the wobbly door handles to the porch’s creaking wooden floorboards, contrast with the restaurant’s modern, stylish, Radiohead-playing atmosphere.
Many of Nobuo’s options are meant to be shared. A meal consists of splitting about three items. Nobuo is the kind of restaurant that makes everything well, but it has two essentials that stand out.
The grapefruit and hamachi might be the best Asian dish in Phoenix and gets my vote for the most memorable. Don’t bother with chopsticks for this one; just pick up the small bowls and use them like spoons. The tart grapefruit makes it taste remarkably fresh. Hamachi is a typical kind of sushi, but this is a unique spin on a classic.
Nobuo’s coconut curry grilled lamb is another example of Fukuda’s excellent use of fruit to accent a dish’s main component. Served with pieces of mango on top of the lamb, it combines unique, contrasting tastes. The lamb was cooked perfectly and had a smoky taste that the cool mango complemented well.
Nobuo’s lunch menu has several of the restaurant’s more affordable options, with entrees as cheap as $8, but it still offers excellently prepared food. Most of the dishes are large enough for a whole meal, rather than the tapas-style dinner menu.
For lunch, I ordered the warm duck salad, which is also offered for dinner. It’s a bold-tasting salad, with a strong vinaigrette dressing that gives it flavor without drenching the lettuce. The duck was delicious, and two grilled orange slices kept it interesting.
My companion ordered the Ebi Salad, a mixture of noodles with shrimp and mint. I tried some and marveled at the combination of spicy and minty tastes.
Save Nobuo for special occasions. Two people can easily spend $50 there. The food and atmosphere will make you want to return soon, but your wallet probably can’t handle it.
Despite the high prices, Nobuo is one of Phoenix’s top restaurants, and Fukuda is one of the Southwest’s best chefs. Because of its cuisine and the Teeter House’s history, Nobuo is one of Phoenix’s cultural highlights, and is a must-try for any true Phoenician.
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