Nobu Thrives at Capri Southampton
by gary walther
Wagyu beef tacos
Let’s say you’re the coach of a team in a Thursday night basketball league. Just a bunch of guys with day jobs and hoop dreams, but no shot at the title. One day you meet LeBron James, invite him to come and play for you, and by god, he says yes.
This is roughly what Steven Kamali did with his Capri Southampton hotel. He, David Edelstein, and Jackie Mansfield bought the 1970s motor court in 2011. He got Meyer Davis (the firm that designed The Dutch in South Beach) to do a hipness implant in the rooms, restaurant, and grounds and his friend Cynthia Rowley to open a boutique. But he still needed something to give the place marquee value. That’s when Kamali picked up the phone and called Richie Notar, a managing partner of Nobu, who had been looking for a Hamptons locale for the brand. And by god, Notar ended up saying yes.
That summer Nobu moved into a stand-alone building on the property that once housed the nightclub, Pink Elephant. Now the Capri had the three things Conrad Hilton said were essential to hotel success: “location, location, and location.” Because even if the Capri’s address on Route 27 isn’t great, Nobu is its own location. If Richie Notar builds it, they will come—and they have.
Among the celebrities who have visited Nobu at Capri are Howard Stern, Matt Lauer, Nobu co-owner Robert DeNiro, Gordon Ramsay, Courtney Love, Emma Roberts, Jeremy Piven, and Donna Karan. “It’s our crowd,” says Notar. “They’re out here, they come.”
The dining room at this Nobu is a low-key harmony of white walls; big, white linen cylinder lamp shades; and beige booths with white piping. The walls have set-in rectangular panels filled with tightly wound nautical rope, the floor is natural wood, and the booths run down the sides and along the bar end of the room. That’s it—simple, plain, soothing. There are also seven seats on a covered terrace.
The layout is as clear as a line in the sand: The 10 booths are where you want to be. The one right behind the hostess stand, consisting of tables 10 and 11, has a chest-high enclosure for privacy and lets you survey the entire room. Booth 24 is also a great perch as it’s at the end of the row and in an untrafficked corner of the room. (Numbers 23 and 22 are next best.) Booths 80 to 83, along the opposite wall, are en route to the terrace, so if you want to be seen, these are your lucky numbers.
The menu is 60 percent smaller than that of Nobu 57, according to Notar, because of the kitchen. “Nobu 57’s kitchen is a Rolls Royce; the chefs out here are driving a Hyundai,” he says. But all the signature dishes are present. “It’s a case of doing fewer things really well,” says Notar.
Here the yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño is sliced as thin as gold leaf, and the jalapeño is balanced perfectly by the cilantro in the dish. The salmon with finely diced cucumber is a two-part harmony of cucumber and apple atop lightly cured salmon and crispy salmon skin. The Nobu-style tacos are one-bite affairs. The lobster taco was mild, the filling overwhelmed by the shell, but the wagyu beef option was just the opposite, tangy and melting, with the creamy beef texture tangoing deftly with the taco crunch. The Nobu-style ceviche was incredibly clean and light and the hot mushroom salad gorgeous—soft, pillowy mushrooms just about upstaged by the crispy, tangy red leaf lettuce. As for the miso cod, it is, as you would expect, a slowmotion landslide of buttery, slightly salty, and tangy tastes that turns into a sweet silt in your mouth. As for the rock shrimp tempura in a spicy sauce, well, this is bar food like it ought to be, with the shrimp just emulsifying in your mouth with a long finish.
The question is whether the city favorite is going to stick around the Capri. When Notar opened in 2011 for the summer, he thought of this Nobu as a popup restaurant. “There’s no obligation; this is sort of a prenup,” he told The Wall Street Journal. “We’re going to live together a little while…. and if we still love each other, we’ll stay together.” So far, the summer love endures. 281 County Road 39A, Southampton, 504-6575
photography by Noah Fecks