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Iron-Chef Style at Morimoto

During our recent trip to New York, the Guinea Pig and I headed over to the Meatpacking District for dinner at Morimoto after seeing the Rent revival (too soon!). Many years ago, my family had lunch at Morimoto in Philadelphia after my college graduation, and while we had a nice time, I didn’t find the meal particularly memorable. I’m really happy that the Guinea Pig chose Morimoto as his dinner pick because we had a lot of fun and the food was creative, adventurous, and very tasty.

We had hoped to do Morimoto’s Omakase (the chef’s tasting menu) but were told we had to order by 10:45 to make that happen. Because our show started a bit late and we ran into traffic on our way to Morimoto, we arrived at 10:49. Even though we had a 10:45 reservation, the restaurant didn’t have a table available for us. I explained to the hostess that we wanted to do the omakase, and she sent us downstairs to the bar to wait for a table while she inquired whether we were too late for omakase. I was fairly certain we were going to get what we wanted. Which restaurant would turn down two patrons willing to pay for the tasting menu?

While we patiently waited for our table, we had a chance to look around the restaurant, which looks like a sci-fi movie set. There are a number of options for seating, including upstairs at the main dining room or sushi bar and downstairs at the bar. The atmosphere is markedly different in each seating area, from the festive main dining room to the quieter sushi bar to the casual downstairs bar. Frosted glass features prominently in the decor, as does modular furniture.

When the hostess came to find us at 11:02, she told us that we could order the omakase as long as we were seated by 11. How we were going to teleport back a few minutes to make this happen, I wasn’t exactly sure. But the restaurant was futuristic, so maybe she knew something we didn’t! She told us we could either sit at a regular table or at the omakase bar. We opted for the omakase bar, a seating option I didn’t know existed.

Morimoto’s omakase bar seats only eight people (according to the restaurant’s promo materials, “eight very fortunate patrons”) and overlooks the restaurant’s exposition kitchen. Before sitting down at the omakase bar – rather, before walking up three steps, down two steps, and then squirming into our straight-backed wooden seats – we had to take off our shoes. Even the hostess had to remove her shoes to seat us, and later, our waiter had to take off his shoes EVERY time he brought us a new course. Fortunately, everyone was wearing slip-on shoes. The idea behind the omakase bar, it seems, is to replicate a traditional Japanese meal (“a true Japanese culinary experience”). How “traditional” this is, who really knows, but it was novel for us.

And then came the food….

Course 1: Toro Tartare

As far as showmanship goes, Morimoto has it down. Our first course was raw chopped toro (tuna belly) served in a shallow bamboo box above a row of condiments, including wasabi, sour cream, kelp paste, chives, avocado, and rice crunchies. This dish came with a scoop, so we happily scooped together the toro and our condiments, then dipped our scoopfuls in soy sauce. The frozen, unidentifiable berry on the side was a delightfully tart palate cleanser.

Course 2: Fluke CarpacchioWhen our waiter brought our next course, he identified it as “fluke.” The Guinea Pig turned to me and asked, slightly queasily, “What’s fluke?” As confidently as I could I said, “It’s a fish!” I was 90% sure it was a fish. The other 10% was imagining that freaky worm-man from an early episode of The X-Files. Fortunately, I was correct – fluke is simply a white fish. The fluke carpacchio was covered in hot oil and deliciously chewy. Even though the Guinea Pig is not a mushroom fan, he delighted in the white truffles in the dish. The pea shoots served on top were great additions as well.

Course 3: Anchovy Fondue When our waiter brought over this “salad course,” I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Our plates arrived with miniature chafing dishes gently warming a greenish liquid along with a chicken meatball, assorted vegetables, and a crostini. Not exactly my definition of salad. Yet, this anchovy fondue was surprisingly good. The chicken meatball itself was perfectly seasoned, while the vegetables were a fitting counterpoint to the salty anchovies and miso in the warm sauce. The Guinea Pig tried the cauliflower before I did and warned me not to leave it for last because it tasted a bit strange with the anchovy fondue. He was right.

Course 4: Oyster Foie GrasThe oyster foie gras was my least favorite dish, but it was certainly interesting. The oyster itself was lightly steamed and topped with foie gras and teriyaki sauce. I generally find oysters a bit slimy and the addition of the foie gras didn’t help things. I felt like I was eating a mouthful of fat. And I probably was. The oyster shell arrived on a bed of rock salt, cinnamon, star anise, cardamom, peppercorn, and bay leaves. Our waiter warned us that they were there for aroma, not for consumption. If you’ve ever had a cold and discovered that food isn’t tasting as good as it usually does, it’s because smell is important to the experience of eating. The aromatics were an interesting complement to the oyster foie gras.

Course 5: Morimoto SashimiNo trip to Morimoto would be complete without sushi. Morimoto is known for flying the fish in straight from Japan. Fortunately, our fifth course consisted of a plate of sashimi. From left to right, we ate salmon, barracuda, mackerel, snapper, and clam. Starting with salmon was a good idea, since it’s a fairly ordinary fish for us. We tackled the barracuda next, and I found it rather meaty for a piece of fish – a bit like swordfish. The mackerel was oily, which was to be expected, while the snapper was delicate and sweet. I don’t know why I don’t eat more snapper (raw or cooked!). Then came the clam. We were both a little iffy on the clam. I wasn’t looking forward to the texture, since most cooked clams are a bit slimy and rubbery and I didn’t imagine a raw one would be much better. The clam slid down with tolerable ease, but I’m not rushing out for clam sashimi any time soon.

Course 6: Ginger AleNext came the perfect palate cleanser: Morimoto’s housemade ginger ale. Since we had just eaten sashimi and were preparing for the main course, the ginger ale was a nice break. I had been debating about ordering the ginger ale before my meal, but I settled on water because it wasn’t going to interfere with the flavors in our meal. So, I was really excited when the waiter brought it over. Think ginger syrup, lemon juice, and thyme – a killer flavor combination.

Course 7: Surf and Turf

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that our entree was the surf and turf, since lobster and steak are a winning combination in my book. The dish was served on a special plate designed for surf and turf. The steak sat on a raised section of the plate, ensuring it didn’t get coated in the lobster’s juices.

Rave reviews for the delicately spiced lobster, which was sprinkled with, of all things, garam masala. The lobster was served with a foam composed of butter and lemon. I loved the foam, since it conveyed the flavors of butter and lemon without the richness of butter or overpowering sour taste of lemon. Morimoto didn’t skimp on the sweet, delicate lobster meat, since we were served a lobster tail and a claw.
Naturally, the steak we were served was waygu (aka Kobe beef). I had a Kobe beef burger once at Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar in Las Vegas and it was tender and flavorful. The same was true of the waygu strip at Morimoto – steak lover’s heaven. The steak was served with Japanese yams, which I found a bit too sweet. I concentrated my efforts on the steak instead.

Course 8: Passionfruit Panna Cotta

I generally don’t like restaurant desserts. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I ordered one. If I want dessert, I’m ready for dark chocolate or a good scoop of ice cream. The dessert we were served at Morimoto was definitely more interesting than my usual dessert preferences, but I’m ready to take back my claim that the oyster foie gras was my least favorite dish and give that title to the passionfruit panna cotta. First of all, I don’t understand why people like a) passionfruit and b) panna cotta. I think passionfruit is overrated and I don’t like anything that’s in the flan or pudding texture family. The passionfruit panna cotta was topped with an apricot gelée, which was quite palatable, and a sweet potato foam, which was really fun. By the time I made it through the foam and gelée, I halfheartedly dipped the provided stick of pastry into the panna cotta a few times before giving up. Then I ate the thinly sliced pears served as a garnish. I think the pears were my favorite part.

In spite of a few stumbles, which were simply a matter of my taste rather than a problem of Morimoto’s conception or execution, our omakase experience was incredibly exciting. The pacing of the dishes was handled perfectly, the flavor journey progressed naturally, and the portion size was managed well. Even though we had eaten many courses, we didn’t leave feeling overly full. The service at the restaurant was impeccable as well. The waiter paid close attention to what we ate and didn’t eat on our plates, inquiring to make sure we didn’t have allergies or strong dislikes. Even though the kitchen was starting to close down, our plates looked beautiful, our food was fresh, and our dining experience wasn’t rushed.

At $125 per person, Morimoto’s omakase isn’t cheap but there are far more expensive tasting menus to be found in NY. We had the chance to taste so many different types of dishes, ingredients, and flavors, so it wouldn’t have been the same if we had made our own selections. It’s a bit difficult for two food control freaks to let go and let chef, but the meal was memorable, satisfying, and inspirational.

The BEST holidays

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