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Robert De Niro first partnered with chef Nobu Matsuhisa nearly 25 years ago. In Matsuhisa, De Niro found more than a friend; he found a cultural expert and business partner. Nobu and the two-time Academy Award-winning actor launched a restaurant empire that’s migrated into the luxury lodging space. The two teamed up recently in Las Vegas to celebrate the fifth anniversary of their first Nobu Hotel Caesars Palace.
Here, De Niro reminisces about the liquid upon which a lasting bond was built and gives tips for gifting sake this holiday season.
I had experienced sake before [Matsuhisa and I] met, when I was in Sao Paolo [filming Brazil]. There’s a huge Japanese community down there, and they had a whole street that was Little Japan. I went into a Japanese restaurant and they had cold sake in a box. I never knew there was such a thing as cold sake, let alone in a box — with a little salt on the end.
[In New York and Los Angeles], it was always warm. It was the tradition. Like spaghetti. In the tropical heat of Sao Paolo, chilled beverages made more sense. So the very first time I went to Nobu’s restaurant I asked him if I could have cold sake. It goes well with the food, it’s a different experience than wine.
I had a high-end Daiginjo at Nobu in Beverly Hills with a British director friend [Roland Joffe], and after I tasted the dishes and was about to leave, I told the chef, “If you ever want to open a restaurant in New York, let me know.” Because to me, it was a no-brainer. [With the Japanese restaurants of the time,] there was always something a little formal and a little dry. But what Nobu had, there was a sexiness to it.
In my collection, I only drink YK 35, very cold, with cucumbers and salt. [Adds Nobu himself: “It’s a daiginjo sake where the rice is polished down to 35 percent. It is from Hokusetsu (on Sado Island in Japan). This is the best sake.”] For yourself or others, I recommend gifting the Hokusetsu YK 35 Daiginjo Sake ($95, 1000Corks.com).
This story first appeared in the Nov. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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