Saturday, October 22, 2005

Dinner @ Morimoto... a journey into loveliness

This is the first meal that I actually chose to document as I ate it. With my childhood friend Jenny, and her Fiancee Jason, we had the $80 Omikase dinner at Morimoto in Philadelphia. I asked what made the $80 dinner different from the $100 or $120, and our waitress said it was based upon the value of the in actual street costs.

The first bit will be the actual description of the course, and the following will be the critique. Note: I am very willing to be very critical as the food allows.

Hamachi tartare with shallots and garlic cut into the mix. Topped with chives and osetra caviar. The sauce it sat in was dashi based with shoyu, and had tempura bits and suru daikon in it. It comes with freshly ground wasabi, and a yamamomo (wild mountain peach, native to Japan)

The flavor of this was amazing. We were recommended to take just a bit of wasabi with each bite, and it added a wonderful heat, but added so much to the flavor of the item. The tempura "cracklins" for lack of a better term gave a very balanced texture to the soft tartare, and the osetra caviar did add a little depth to the dish. I would get this again.

Suzuki (striped bass) seared with hot oil with ginger very finely minced, shallots,microgreens, and chiffonade of shiso. It was seared with hot nut oil, and topped with a bit of chive oil as well.

Again, this dish was excellent. The quality of the fish was incredible, and pulling together the light crispness of the greens, the sour of the shiso, and the sweetness of the fish made for a complete sense of umami. I do believe that it hits that unique Japanese flavor sensation not covered by salt, sweet, sour, bitter.

Sashimi salad with Spanish mackerel, microgreens, suru daikon and shichimi togarashi in a dashi based dressing with chive oil, and a thin cracker of bonito on top.

Mackerel usually has a much heavier flavor to it, though I suppose, that's jack mackerel, and this was Spanish. The salad was light, and the fish blended beautifully with the spiciness of the daikon. The dressing was similar to the flavor of the previous dish, but had more of a ponzu element as it was a dressing so the sour was represented as well. The sour cut the oiliness of the fish perfectly.

An intermezzo course of raspberry wasabi sorbet with a snip of mint leaf on top.

I never expected to like this combination, but the raspberry flavor was intense, and as the heady berry taste began to lighten, a slight tingly heat which comes distinctly from wasabi set in. The tiny bit of mint added a lovely freshness to the dish.

Rock shrimp tempura with a spicy 'kochujan' aoli topped with chive and grand marnier. Two pieces of endive were on the plate to use as a scoop to eat the shrimp with.

The aoli had a nice smooth heat to it...Subtle, but just enough. It had a distinct feel of a Japanese version of sweet and sour, but with a creamier base. My main critique of this was that there was just too much of it. This was the first main dish feel, and it was rather filling. It was perfectly fried, and the endive scoop which you nibbled on as you ate the shrimp added a very elegant bitterness to the dish, taking it from insanely good popcorn shrimp, to a classy dish to talk about.

Morimoto's version of black cod with miso. Topped with a seared piece of foie gras, and aka miso and shiro miso sauces. A small sampling of kuromame, and pickled bell peppers.

This dish felt like an homage to what he is known for, in a playful way. The black cod with miso is a signature dish at Nobu, and the bell peppers felt like they were playing to his Iron Chef status. The kuromame was a little bit less succulent than I would have liked...Honestly, my mothers is better, but I think they use a different kind of black bean. The black cod with miso was excellent and you can never go wrong with foie gras...and yes, that can be disputed, but this did not disappoint. The black cod was NOT as good as the one served at Nobu, mainly because it had more of a traditional Japanese tilt to it, and tasted more like black cod kasuzuke, than the Nobu version, which is lighter in flavor. The grade of fish also felt like it was a tiny step down from that which was served at Nobu. It's all about comparison, but it did not thrill me as much as I initially hoped. I would still take it any day over most food on this earth.

The sushi course. One piece each of maguro, hirame, sake, sawara, and aoyagi, again with beni shoga and freshly ground wasabi on the side to be enjoyed with shoyu.

This was actually a mixed bag in my mind. Morimoto is best known for his sushi preparation. Note, he wasn't actually making sushi that night, so I can't blame him for anything, but the fish was not of the highest caliber I've had. There are 3 places that I can distinctly call out higher grade fish. The fresh wasabi added a perfect wild bite to it, and here is what made this sushi very very very good even without the fish being out of this world. The rice was perfect. The texture of each grain was maintained, it was as if each grain pointed in the same direction, so as your teeth cut through it, the texture was perfect. The su- they used on the rice was a bit lighter on the sugar and vinegar than most places I've had sushi, including Nobu, and it allowed the flavor of the rice to be better revealed. Also, the salmon was actually a lightly smoked salmon, which I am not a big fan of in general for sushi. The aji (mackerel) was excellent fish, but the maguro was not up to what I assumed it would be.

Dessert. Chocolate cake with shiro miso ice cream, and an apple sake puree with 3 lightly salted almonds.

I never expect much from Japanese desserts as they are usually either bitter, or way too sweet. I forgot he also had classical French training. Wow. The cake was rich in flavor from darker or bittersweet chocolate, but very light in texture, and moist. It was a borderline souffle texture. The shiro miso ice cream definitely had the essence of miso, but not the salt...just a sense of the ingredients. Very delicate in flavor, and had what tasted like chocolate cake crumbles underneath it. The center of the plate was painted with a stroke of apple sake puree, which when added to the cake enhanced the richness and depth of flavor even more. The very lightly salted almonds gave it a wonderful finishing touch, and the different texture that it needed.

The meal would have been perfect if the fish quality in the sushi had been a bit better, but it was excellent. We also had 2 of Morimoto's Rogue ales...the soba and the hazelnut. The hazelnut was dark and sweet, without any of the Guinness bitterness. The soba was a tiny bit nutty, and went very well with the food we had. We finished the dessert with each of us having a pot of our own sencha tea. It was perfectly steeped, and not the least bit bitter.

On a 1-10 scale, I give this a 9.5. Very high points for creativity and richness of flavor, really hitting every sense with every dish. The down sides of Morimoto were that the service could have been a bit better, as they spilled some of the shoyu off the sushi dish, and didn't clean it up for a good 10 minutes, and that was after one of the floor managers saw it, was horrified very quietly, and went back to tell her to clean it up. They were also not that educated about the dishes. The pronunciationgood, they would go into intense detail about part of the dish, but forget to explain what some other element was. That and the fish quality stopped me from giving this restaurant perfect marks, but I highly recommend it.

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