>> Thursday, April 15, 2010
An original Iron Chef from the hit Japanese show. Trained in Hiroshima, both as a sushi chef and also as a kaiseki expert (fancy Japanese multi-course set menu experience). Worked as the head chef at Nobu before opening his own restaurant, Morimoto, in Philadelphia in 2001. And in 2006, opened a second one in New York, right in the Chelsea Market building (which, by the way, is a destination in and of itself for any food enthusiast who loves to explore interesting food markets).
Of course, we opted for the omakase ($120), the best way to experience this Iron Chef's creative energy.
Upstairs you have the massive sushi bar that wraps around on three sides. Sushi is flown in four times a week from Tsukiji Fish Market, the largest fish market in Tokyo.
Downstairs you have the cool swanky bar. At 7pm (which is when we arrived) the bar was relatively empty. Within an hour or so, the place was bustling, crowded, full of people chilling on a Saturday night.
Morimoto has partnered with Rogue Ales in Oregon to produce a line of beers. This hazelnut beer was actually really good!
The Omakase (Chef's Tasting Menu)
You'll have to forgive me for not knowing the names of everything I had. As this is a chef's tasting menu, nothing is written down. I'm basing this from memory, which is shady at best.
We started out with a beautiful toro tartare and osetra caviar creatively spread out inside a small, flat wooden box. On the bottom, several sauces with which to experiment: wasabi, sour cream, nori paste, chives, avocado, and natto? (I can't remember the last one). I love toro, and therefore it was not difficult to absolutely love this starter.
Whitefish carpaccio tossed in a light, soy-sauce based vinaigrette.
Yellowtail Pastrami with almond foam and microgreens.
House-smoked Salmon "ravioli" with salmon roe, Japanese sweet yams, and yuzu foam (I got this one).
Kumamoto oysters and fois gras and uni (sea urchin) (Bryan got this one). This dish was amazing and had a beautiful mix of flavors. Both Bryan and I agreed that this dish tasted a lot better than my smoked salmon ravioli.
Assorted Sushi: I actually thought the sushi was only OK. It might be because I did not love the particular pieces they brought out. Personally, I much prefer the sushi both at Sushi Yasuda and Kyubei.
Free random appetizer The service was actually really slow the night we went - we were there for over three hours, and we only had 7 courses. That translates to 1/2 hour a course! At the end of our meal, the waitress even admitted that the kitchen was a bit "off" that night. The above dish is something I think we got by mistake. It's just a little appetizer of mushrooms and cooked fish. I actually thought it was pretty average (the fish was really hard - like overcooked swordfish!). Oh well, it was free, I guess, but it lowered my opinion of the kitchen just a notch.
Bryan's main course was pretty good. Bryan got the "Surf and Turf" - Kobe beef and lobster. This is actual Kobe beef (not wagyu) from Japan. Bryan thought that everything was perfectly cooked. Of course, how can you go wrong with Kobe? (Kobe is an optional add-on to the normal omakase and costs extra. Typically, it comes with normal beef)
I asked for something lighter for my main course (I really did not feel like eating steak), and they gave me this Ishi yaki buri bop (yellowtail bi bim bop) cooked tableside in a hot stone bowl. When the dish first arrived I was really excited because of the beautiful raw slices of yellowtail (see top left picture). Then the waiter started stirring everything around in the super hot stone bowl (top right). Internally I kept thinking "Nooooo!!! Don't cook the fish!" Alas, he finished mixing and presented my final dish to me (bottom). **Sigh** the beautiful yellowtail was now clearly cooked all the way through. The dish was still enjoyable, but I'm sure I would have enjoyed it more had the fish been raw.
We both ended with a nice, triple chocolate dessert. I remember liking it, although I can't remember any particular details about it except that I enjoyed the interplay of textures between the creamy cold ice cream (or sorbet?) and the crunchy cookie below.
Overall, Morimoto is worth visiting, at least once. The space, which cost $12 million to build, is a sight in itself. The food is inventive, beautifully presented, and, for the most part, pretty enjoyable - there are definitely some standout dishes. There's no doubt that the seafood is fresh and top notch. I loved the raw fish portions of the tasting menu. My favorites? The toro tartare, the yellowtail pastrami, and the oyster and fois gras (amazing!). It's not all perfect, though. As I mentioned earlier, the timing of the kitchen was pretty off, and we often waited long stretches between courses. Also, some of the dishes, such as the ravioli and the mushroom/fish appetizer, were quite average. Honestly, if you only have a few days in New York, there are probably a lot of other places I would pick over this one. If I came back, I would likely skip the omakase and just order the dishes that I think I would love (e.g, raw fish appetizers like my first three courses!)
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