Ryokan Nobu in Malibu was named the #1 Best Resort Hotel in the continental U.S. by Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best List. Nobu in Malibu is one of the most sought-after dinner reservations on the west coast. Is all this Nobu-centric press well-deserved?The Nobu Ryokan, In Malibu. What’s a Ryokan?Having spent time in a few ryokans while living in Tokyo, I was a bit skeptical about the highly anticipated Nobu Ryokan opening in Malibu. Owned by a combination of high-profile celebrities, business magnates, and Chef Matsuhisa, it had quite a force behind its amber-colored walls.By definition, a ryokan is a ‘traditional Japanese-style inn’. It features tatami-matted rooms, low wooden tables, shoji sliding doors, and an onsen (natural hot spring). How would Nobu pull off a minimal Japanese guest house experience just steps off the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu? As it turns out, the term ryokan is taken rather loosely at Nobu in Malibu. However, if you are aware of that upfront, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a stunning beachfront property and the ryokan sits on exclusive Carbon Beach. It has 17 rooms and suites, all ocean-facing, which feel intimate, exclusive, and surprisingly—given its location, quiet.Nobu Malibu and Billionaire’s BeachInterestingly, the part of Carbon Beach where the Nobu Ryokan resides was once a 1950s motel called Casa Malibu Inn, which Oracle co-founder, Larry Ellison bought in 2007. Carbon Beach has often been referred to as Billionaire’s Beach, as it has many celebrity homeowners.The beach is a 1.5-mile-crescent shape that extends from Malibu Pier towards Santa Monica. It’s surprising to see so many rickety and run-down homes, (easily mistaken for shacks on stilts) next to multi-multi-million dollar homes.Until recently, it was nearly impossible to reach Carbon Beach from the street, as there were no pedestrian access points. Homeowners along the beach had been creative to keep the tourists and beachcombers at bay. Fake garages, ‘No Entry’, and ‘No Trespassing’ signs littered the highway, strategically placed to keep people out. That eventually changed. Yet, it’s still a challenge to reach, which makes Nobu Malibu’s beach property all the more exclusive.Nobu Malibu: DiningNobu’s ocean-side restaurant is just a stone’s throw from the ryokan, separated only by the ultra-modern and buzzing members-only Soho House. Nobu erases the need for an in-house restaurant but also erases the intimacy of the in-room ryokan dining experience. To that end, the food is not included in the price of the room, as it is in a traditional ryokan. A typical ryokan meal, known as kaiseki, is about small and varied plates, as well as seasonal and regional ingredients. Each course is artfully designed, with hidden culinary flavors on each plate, sometimes within a single bite. In my eyes, it is the essence of what makes a ryokan stay so unique. Room service is available from the restaurant, and the food is in line with what you would expect from a superstar transplant chef from Japan. Nobu Matsuhisa has catapulted himself into a worldwide brand, and you would think with so many irons in the fire that his brand might suffer. It didn’t seem to be suffering at the restaurant, a full house every night. It feels just like the set of Entourage. In a meta moment, we see the real Turtle and ‘E’ wander in for dinner. Not surprisingly, they don’t endure an hour’s wait for a table. However, a perk of staying at the Nobu Ryokan is that we get reservations at the restaurant. We take full advantage of this perk.At The Nobu Ryokan in Malibu, it’s minimalThe staff at the ryokan is as minimal as the decor. Or, at least it appears that way. Aside from the general manager, Ms. Janelle Eng, who personally welcomes us upon arrival, we hardly see a soul throughout our stay. There is the occasional gardener tending the tropical flora or skimming the man-made ponds, but we went hours without seeing anyone at all.Ms. Eng has a bright, breezy, and effortless way about her, magically appearing when needed and seeming to disappear into thin air when we don’t. Ms. Eng was once quoted, “You go to Nobu’s restaurant and Soho House to see and be seen—but you come to the ryokan to not be seen”.Nobu in Malibu, hidden in plain sightThe gardens and architecture are reasons alone to visit the Nobu Ryokan. It’s hidden in plain sight directly on the highway. Enter through the double-thick automated wooden doors and leave the world behind. The Pacific Ocean lies directly ahead.A winding stone path, natural water features, an outdoor fireplace, and an elevated deck with expansive white umbrellas are all that sit between us and the sea. However, only guests of the ryokan can catch a glimpse of the Jerusalem limestone, the koi ponds, or the enormous, overflowing potted plants.The shallow-pitched and flat roof-topped buildings naturally blend into the hilly California backdrop. The colors are warm and toasty, the sun always creating new colors to the palette, the thunder of the ocean waves walloping onto the shore.Iconic California palms abound, as do lush flora and fauna. The gardens, while small, are beautiful. Rocky paths guide us around the property, and Japanese stone lanterns are nestled into the landscape.It’s in the details at Nobu in MalibuWe lunch on the deck upon arrival while waiting for our room. I have lobster shiitake salad with spicy lemon dressing, the first of many wonderful Nobu Malibu meals. The umbrellas offer enough shade to shield us from the sun, yet allow us to enjoy the unobstructed sea views.We then head to our suite and immediately decide we are staying put for the rest of the afternoon. Everything we need is in place. An assortment of teas, a Nespresso machine, a large deck with sunscreen and towels, and two beach chairs prepared for us on the sand below. The idea that the PCH is less than a few hundred feet behind us seems impossible.Our room is beautifully appointed with maple-syrupy teak wood. Warm, natural sunlight pours in from the skylights. As Japanese ryokans go, Mr. Matsuhisa’s interpretation is certainly a high-end version of the genre. While it’s not quite as spare and doesn’t offer the traditional onsen experience, it does have a deep tub in which I happily soak for hours. Beauty and the Bath at the Nobu RyokanThe bathroom is by far one of the ryokan’s best features. This is due mainly to the incredible use of light, and how it graphically and organically plays out through the windows. The shadows create strong geometric patterns that shift throughout the day.The honeycomb colors make the bathroom appear drenched in the sun, even at night. Never underestimate the power of a soft amber lightbulb. A deep, teak, soaking tub with bath salts and traditional Japanese details makes the loss of a true onsen a distant memory.A Japanese yukata, or robe, is on hand. The Japanese layer the left side of the yukata over the right, the opposite of what we do here in the West. If layered in Western style, it signifies mourning. At Ryokan Nobu in Malibu: It’s Hospitality For The WinThere are plenty of Japanese touches, of course, but I don’t feel like I’m in Japan, and perhaps that is not Matsuhisa’s intent. Yet, I don’t feel I’m in a Disney-fied version of Japan either. It is merely this, a California interpretation of a Japanese inn.The Nobu Ryokan Malibu’s website writes about the art of Japanese hospitality, omotenashi. The service certainly comes close to its Japanese counterpart, and as I mentioned, Ms. Eng could not have been more in tune with our needs. We discover that the only way to secure a reservation for the inn is by email, as there is no telephone number or even a reservations department, per see. Malibu FarmWe wander down the coast for dinner. Situated at the base of the iconic circa 1905 Malibu Pier, and wallowing in its shabby chic-ness is Malibu Farm. The crowd is a mixed bag, young and old, tourists, and locals alike. Buzzy and convivial. Well-placed hanging tealights create a low-key yet festive vibe.The food is good, and I enjoy a perfectly seared skirt steak with a balsamic and fig marinade. However, the fiery disk of the cadmium orange setting sun is the showstopper. It definitely isn’t the chairs, or should I say, the low, hard wooden stools that we sit upon. But the sunset is a hit, and I happily sit in discomfort for hours watching. The sister breakfast spot up the pier, Malibu Farm Café, is equally shabby. Maybe even more so. The kind of place where I feel compelled to tip, despite the fact that I stood in line to order food, and had to bus my own table afterward. The coffee is energizing, hot, and in big ceramic mugs, so that makes up for a lot. Malibu Pier is as insta-ready as it gets, and if you are lucky with a bright blue sky (unlike us) and a rare moment when tourists aren’t lining the pier, you can get a lovely shot. Malibu Views at The Nobu RyokanAdmittedly, I have a Western view of the Far East, and an Eastern view of the Pacific Northwest. That said, I probably need more than three days at Nobu in Malibu to truly get under the surface. I am willing to do more research.However, as much as I like the ryokan with its simple subtle lines, minimalistic decor, and prime beach location, I’m not sure it can justify its staggering price tag. I imagine some who are more familiar with Japanese culture would consider it a bit of a gimmick.I give the Ryokan at Nobu in Malibu kudos for its many accomplishments. It left me wondering, though, whether it’s a traditional Japanese Ryokan or a cleverly branded boutique hotel.Let me know what you decide.