Masaharu Morimoto is an exciting chef to watch. His creativity and skill as evidenced on Iron Chef (Food Network) are awe-inspiringly par excellence. Unfortunately, his eponymous restaurant failed to deliver on these high expectations. Four of us dined at Morimoto in NYC last night and all of us came back not really interested in revisiting the place.
The decor is modern bordering on stark with glass bottles being the major effect. While the ambiance was not on the warm Japanese home style tones, it was definitely in line with that of an upscale restaurant. The bar in the basement is an extension of the same look; neat and translucent.
We had reservations and so were shown to our table immediately, which is a positive compared to other similarly high-end places. The menu offers the options of ordering a la carte or choosing a sushi/sashimi platters (by price) or the chef omakase (tasting menu). The omakase is $120 and on the course were tuna tartare, caviar, salad with oysters, kumamoto oysters with foie gras, sushi platter, wagyu beef slices, lobster cooked in garam masala and for dessert yam pound cake with chocolate ganache. Well, not exactly inventive and what was with the two oyster courses!
So, we decided to go a la carte. Our table of four had the following -
- Zen Sai - 5 different antipasti, which were interesting and perhaps even a bit whimsical
- Oyster Foie Gras - these were cooked oysters with foie gras, caviar in a teriaki sauce. The texture of the oysters was good although the flavor of the foie gras did not come through.
- Sushi Platter (for $35) - this included a maki roll and 8 assorted sushi pieces. This was the least distintive dish of the lot. Yes, the fish was wonderfully fresh but nothing above and beyond what you would get at a good sushi place like Poke. Although, to be fair, I did not expect any different; It's really hard to distinguish one good piece of salmon from another.
- Braised Black Cod - Served in a ginger soy reduction. The sauce overwhelmed the fish.
- Roasted Ocean Trout - Not particularly imaginative.
- Surf & Turf - Wagyu fillet, hamachi ribbons salad with avocado and citrus and a side of herbed potatoes. The best part of the dish (and the meal, for me) was the hamachi salad. Hamachi is a young yellowtail and is rich and buttery but not overpoweringly fatty. It paired wonderfully with the creamy avocado and the tang of the citrus to make a fresh dish. The potatoes were nicely done if a tad salty. The beef was a complete let down. I have had Kobe beef in Japan and it was a heavenly, melt in your mouth experience. I was looking for a similar levitating experience last night but none came. For starters, the phenomenal flavor of the beef comes from the intense marbling. My cut had none of the fat streaks and was rather chewy. Also, the seared crust was not in the least appealing and overly buttery, on the whole, taking away the taste of the meat. If I could order just the salad as a whole entree, I think I would be very happy.
- White Chocolate Semifreddo - Semifreddo is Italian for semi-frozen and here it was made with light flavorless cheese and white chocolate and encased in grea tea castella and accompanied by burnt orange icecream and a streak of semi-sweet chocolate. For lack of better description, the tea castella looked and tasted like square, spongy fruit loops! The icecream was the best component of this dessert.
- Chocolate Banana Vacherin - This was, arguably, the better of the two desserts. It really was a deconstructed version of a banana split refined up and enclosed in a meringue cup (vacherin).
On the whole, it was a good meal but not superlative as one comes to expect from chefs of Morimoto's calibre. Our dinner companions had previously dined at Nobu, another of his flagships, and had enjoyed that experience. I still haven't written him off. Nobu is on our to-dine list and perhaps will stand a better testament to his excellence than Morimoto did!