Hiroshima-born Masaharu Morimoto started his career in Japan before coming to America in 1985 and working at several well-known establishments including the Sony Club and Nobu. He really shot into prominence when he took over from Hiroyuki Sakai as Iron Chef Japanese on the original hit show, Iron Chef. He then made the transition to Iron Chef America and parlayed his fame into a series of restaurants . His first restaurant was Morimoto in Philadelphia ( 2001) and he has since opened restaurants in New York , Tokyo ,Boca Raton , Mumbai and New Delhi .
On Saturday of the Memorial Day weekend , we went to his eponymous N.Y.C restaurant in Chelsea in the Meatpacking district. It was a memorable experience.
Morimoto ( 88 Tenth Avenue) is located in a large space spread out over two levels . On the lower or basement level is a stylish bar running the full width of the restaurant , some tables for smaller groups of diners and , in the back , the prep kitchen. The main dining area , on the street level, is furnished in blond tables and very comfortable chairs upholstered in white. The ceiling is covered with pleated fiberglass made to look like cloth and to one side of our table was a “wall” of bottles filled with water and interspersed with blue lights. Though the dining room is large , the muted colors and lighting and the sound absorbent ceiling decor make for a soothing ambience that provides a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of New York City .
We spent a few minutes at the downstairs bar before being seated . I had an Asahi Extra Dry while the others in our party went for more exotic drinks . One had a White Lily ( Calpico , Yuzu rind and vodka ) ,another tried a Lychee Martini and a third sampled a Wasabi Infused Sake cocktail with Cucumber garnish. Adjacent to the bar were the restrooms , the only ones I’ve ever seen with sliding doors .
The à la carte choices were tempting but , at the suggestion of our waitperson , Stacy , we decided to go with the omakase or tasting menu . At $120 per person , it was pricey but it proved to be a great choice since we got to taste the full gamut of dishes at Morimoto.These, to the best of my recollection , are the dishes we had .
We started out with Tuna Tartare with Five Dipping Sauces and were simply blown away by the presentation. The medium fatty tuna was ground to a fine paste spread thinly on a small wooden slab shaped like a miniature cutting board . At one end were thin stripes of the dipping sauces …wasabi , crème fraîche , nori paste, shiso flavored guacamole, and lastly , sesame crackers. The board served up in a white porcelain bowl filled with crushed ice , in which also nestled a sweet/sour Japanese berry intended as a mouth freshener. Diners used a small flat metal ladle to mix the tuna with the sauces . Fabulous.
Next came the sashimi course , thin slices of Fluke with Yuzu and Sesame Oil topped with Micro-Greens and tiny Mushrooms.
This was followed by Shrimp Tempura Served Two Ways and accompanied by House Ranch Sauce. All the courses were wonderful but I liked this one the best . The shrimp had been fried to a greaseless perfection and were startlingly crisp inspite of the sauces in which they had been bathed . Half the shrimp were flavored with a garlic aioli , the rest with a mild kochujang concoction.
The next course , Vegetables Crudites with Anchovy – Garlic paste, provided a change of pace. Anchovy garlic paste doesn’t sound appetizing but it was ; it went very well with the vegetables ,of which an unusual yellow carrot was my favorite . The other vegetables consisted of asparagus , cherry tomato, fiddlehead fern , radish, and cauliflower ( the last I didn’t particularly care for ).
At Stacy’s suggestion , we had decided to augment the tasting menu with a helping of Spicy King Crab with Tobiko Sauce and this arrived on the heels of the vegetable course. Pieces of King crab sauted with a spicy red sauce with hints of garam masala .
The sushi consisted of five pieces , one each of clam , whitefish , bluefish tuna and red snapper. In addition to the usual pickled ginger and wasabi , there was a slice of lemon which, when squeezed over the fish, really enhanced the taste though purists might blanch at the idea.
Prior to the main course we were given a small beaker of house ginger beer as a palate cleanser.
Surf and Turf consisted of half a grilled lobster with a mildly spicy sauce and a thin slice of Wagyu Beef served with potato batons in a sweetish sauce. Beside the lobster was a dollop of sweetened crème fraîche foam which went marvelously with the lobster meat.
Dessert was Apricot Sorbet with Maple Syrup over Tofu Cheesecake served in a container with a Shortbread ” lid”and a side of Sesame Puff Pastry with Red Bean Paste. And Berries! Individually , each of the components was great but taken as a whole , the dessert seemed over the top and heavy.
Of the nine courses we had , I’d rate three as excellent (Tuna Tartare , Shrimp Tempura and Spicy King Crab ), three very good ( Vegetable Crudites , Surf and Turf, Dessert Sorbet/ Cheesecake) and three just okay ( Sushi , Ginger Beer , Fluke Sashimi). The presentation was outstanding as was the ambience . I was very pleased by the attentiveness of the waitstaff who explained what each dish as it was brought out and were friendly , obliging and efficient at the same time . I was surprised to see several reviews complaining about the service . Whatever flaws with the service there may have been have been corrected ; we couldn’t have asked for anything more.
The dessert had made us all feel a little heavy so , after dinner , we took a stroll outside on the Highline . This is a long disused elevated line which has been converted to a very pleasant promenade . Along its length are well-tended planters , comfortable loungers , benches and seating areas and water cascades. Looking over the sides one can watch the crowds of tourists enjoying themselves at the various cafes or sit on the strategically located stepped seating and gawk at the traffic whizzing immediately below on Tenth Avenue. Off to the other side is the Hudson and on the further shore the lights of New Jersey . A most pleasant ending to a memorable evening .