Friday, June 26, 2015

Flashback Friday - Morimoto

This post was originally published on July 26, 2007.

When presented with an opportunity to go to Philadelphia, I immediately jumped on the idea of eating at Morimoto. DH and I have long watched Iron Chef, both the original Japanese and current American versions. Although we usually think the food Masaharu Morimoto concocts seems a bit weird (and in some cases, possibly inedible), we've wanted to try his restaurant for years now.

On Tuesday the 24th, after an afternoon of King Tut and friends at the Franklin Institute, we entered our long-awaited Chestnut Street destination. The lime green glass doors revealed a long, high-ceilinged room with undulating patterns on the walls and light-filled Lucite booths that changed color. The place was nearly full and extremely noisy, as techno music from the sound system did battle with diners who yelled to be heard over the din. A particularly noisy party of six was unfortunately seated at the booth next to ours, and all evening long we were subjected to the wincingly-loud kookaburra-like laugh of one of the women who was trying entirely too hard to impress her date.

A shot of the sculpted wall, the booth in a blue mood, and the noisy woman, caught uncharacteristically with her mouth (and eyes, heh) closed.

Hubs and I, after about 30 seconds of discussion, went for the omakase option. There were $80, $100, and $120 price points, the difference being in the exoticness of the ingredients rather than the number of courses. For comparison's sake, we chose to order an $80 and a $100 version. Our friend Kate, not being a fan of raw fish, went for a more conventional appetizer/entree approach.

First up for her was the "10-Hour Pork 'Kakuni'" - a dish of rice porridge, or congee topped with a chunk of braised pork belly. Unfortunately I didn't get a photo of it before she dug in, and the after photo wasn't nearly as appetizing, so I'll spare you that. The pork was tender and juicy, and the congee was well-flavored and not as bland as versions I've had in the past. It was a oddly haute-Asian version of comfort-food, and possibly a perfect lunch for a chilly autumn day.

For her entree, Kate chose the seafood tobanyaki:

It came in a vented, celadon-lidded, clay pot that emanated a fantastic aroma. Inside was a bounty of seafood in a citrus-soy butter: New Zealand green-lipped mussels; large scallops; snow crab legs; shrimp; plus oyster mushrooms and baby bok choy. Everything was perfectly cooked. I particularly enjoyed morsels of crab and scallop. Kate enjoyed it all.

As for the omakase...some courses were different, some were similar or identical. All were delicious.

First up: Hamachi Tartare - crispy shallots, caviar, fresh wasabi, soy broth
The tartare was a marvel of textures and flavors. The slightly cold and bland hamachi was finely chopped (by that famous Morimoto "double-barreled chopping action" done with two cleavers perhaps?) and blended with crispy shallots. Molded into a timbale shape, it was topped with caviar and rested atop a very salty miso soy broth that was to be spiced up by adding some of the fresh wasabi. Each taste was a melange of cold, soft, crispy, salty, warm, and pungent. I was most pleasantly surprised - remember that I am not the biggest fan of raw seafood, but I was going to be game for Morimoto, since I knew the quality would be impeccable. Plus, if I really hated it, I'm sure I could foist it onto my raw-loving hubby. Raw or no, I think this was my favorite dish.

The little pink fruit is a mountain peach. Our waiter had asked if we had any food allergies, so I made sure to tell him about my problems with stone fruits and soy milk. He realized the peach mistake as he was telling us about our dish, and whisked mine away to be replaced with a tiny dish of chopped pineapple. Hub says the peach tasted like a raspberry.

Our next courses were similar. DH was getting the more expensive dishes, so he was presented with thinly sliced scallop carpaccio drizzled in warm oil with soy, while I received striped bass. As he's not a big fan of scallop, we traded. The seafood was tender and delicious, subtly flavored with soy and yuzu. As you may be able to see in the photos, the warm oil cooked the flesh a bit in spots, giving it slightly different textures.

The "salad" course was next. Unfortunately, the restaurant was so loud, I couldn't hear the components of every dish, so I'm probably missing something here and there. My salad had slices of kingfish (Spanish mackerel) that had been seared on the skin side, leaving the flesh raw. There was a small mound of baby greens, lightly dressed and garnished with bonito shavings and what seemed to be a finely chopped onion confit. The mackerel was suprisingly delicious, rich and not at all fishy, and the bonito was chewy with an earthy flavor.

DH got Alaskan sockeye salmon, and his greens got a creamy yuzu dressing that was a real knockout, flavor-wise. I think I heard that his dish also contained udo, a Japanese vegetable, but I didn't taste that.

The three of us were next brought an intermezzo of "sour strawberry soda" - tall shot glasses with a bit of strawberry puree at the bottom, topped off with club soda.

Hot entrees were next. Mine was black cod with miso, garnished with a bit of sweet pepper and three huge sweet black beans. The cod was perfectly cooked, a little on the rare side, and sweet. We were all enchanted by the way the sugary glaze worked with the fish. I know this is a traditional Japanese recipe that can be found online, and I am sorely tempted to try this dish at home.

The pricier entree was wild halibut wrapped in nori, topped with a bit of lobster claw meat, and garnished with a crispy object somewhat like a wonton. I didn't catch that part of the description, nor did I get a chance to taste it. Although complicated, this was probably the most boring dish of the evening. The seafood was well-cooked, and the nori was remarkably un-fishy-tasting (I dislike nori for that reason), but it was altogether unremarkable.

Next, I was presented with a bowl of soba carbonara, with tiny scallops, bacon, and parmesan. My pasta-loving husband looked at it longingly. I ate half, enjoying its unusual buckwheat-and-bacon flavor (which Kate did not like), before trading it for his panko-crusted baby lamb chops. They rested upon a dark substance that I think was finely ground black olives mixed with something else that I couldn't quite make out (and of course did not hear), and a dab of sauteed spinach. On the side was a small dollop of sunchoke puree garnished with sunchoke crisps. The lamb was cooked to about medium, and in itself was quite good. However, there was a weird sweetness about the dish that seemed out of place to me.

Our last savory dish was a selection of nigiri-style sushi. Mine included giant clam, Spanish mackerel, Japanese whitefish, hamachi, and maguro tuna. Hub's was similar, but his tuna was the pricier and fattier otoro. All were very fresh and clean-tasting, served with more of the fresh wasabi (the real thing, not green-tinted horseradish) and very spicy pickled ginger. My biggest problem with this style of sushi is that the pieces of fish always seem far too large, and I have a hard time stuffing it all into my mouth at once and chewing daintily.

Last, but certainly not least, was dessert. Because the blueberry dish contained a little soy milk, that one was placed before my dear husband. The guy who doesn't particularly like blueberries. He said the dish was somewhat like very gelatinous cheesecake (or panna cotta) and, although edible, wasn't anything special. I got the Morimoto brownies. They were rich and fudgelike and completely delicious, especially when dipped in the accompanying Suntory whiskey-flavored caramel and rolled in nutty cookie crumbs.

Kate went for the lemon sesame creme brulee. The unctuous cream was deeply flavored with lemon, and I believe the sesame must have been in the broiled sugar topping. We all loved this dish, and I think it's one of the best versions of creme brulee I've ever eaten.

Because there was a very long wait between the last entree course and dessert, we were given complimentary glasses of slightly sweet champagne. The rest of the meal was washed down with a bottle of Iron Horse Tin Pony chardonnay and many glasses of tap water.

I was very happy to have had the opportunity to finally eat at Morimoto, and would definitely consider going back. Perhaps to the NY outpost. And I'd go for the $120 omakase - from photos on the Web, I see that there's lobster involved.....

723 Chestnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 413-9070

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