Monday, April 11, 2011

Restaurant Review: Morimoto Napa

It's been while since I wrote a Restaurant Review post. I've been to multiple places that I fully intended to review, but I still haven't gotten around to it. This place, however, was special. It's not every day that you dine in the restaurant of a celebrity chef (for me, at least). Even rarer for that celebrity chef to be an Iron Chef from the original Japan series (yes, he was the second Iron Chef Japanese, but he was still part of the original show)!

I forgot my D90 on this trip, so all these photos were taken with my Canon SD800IS. Lucky for me, that point and shoot often resides in my purse, or I would have been left without any documentation!

So...Morimoto. We were a large group of 12 ladies, so our awesome party planners made sure to have a reservation set months in advance to avoid a long wait. Well...we still had to wait. The restaurant was crowded, and another large party had decided to linger over drinks instead of relinquishing their table for upcoming guests. :-( Unfortunately, Morimoto Napa doesn't have a designated waiting area. They have a bar in the back which they tried to send us to, but it was too packed for our group to fit anywhere. Instead we ended up hanging around in the hallway that connected the quieter front room with the noisy back room and kitchen. Did I mention we were posted up in front of the bathrooms? Uh huh...for 45 minutes, too.

The kitchen took pity on us, and half an hour into our wait, they sent out a little taste of what was to come:
That, my friends, is a slice of Morimoto's Tuna Pizza--anchovy aioli, olive, jalapeno, red onion and tomato. Surprisingly mild, smooth, and deliciously fresh. I didn't even mind the tomato. The tomato yuckiness was completely masked by the combined awesomeness of the other ingredients. This isn't a "party in your mouth" like the ingredients imply. Really, the whole thing was very mild, and the fresh tuna was the star.

We were seated soon after that, and it didn't take too long for them to start bringing out our appetizers. Since we were booked as a large group/party, we received a preset selection of appetizers, separated into two rounds.

Appetizer Round 1:

Wagyu Beef Carpaccio with yuzu soy, ginger and sweet garlic.
I didn't try this, but I was told that it was delicious. It also disappeared pretty quickly since so many wanted seconds. :-)

Two kinds of Rock Shrimp Tempura--wasabi aioli and spicy kochujan. This was served with a mild, yogurt-like sauce, not pictured. Both sauces were delicious, but if I had to order just one, I'd go for the wasabi. The sauce was beautifully done with all the flavor of wasabi but just a mild kick.

More Tuna Pizza. Did I mention I'm a fan of this? I think I ate two more slices when this came out. In my defense, I knew I wouldn't be eating the beef appetizers, and I asked before I took that second slice.

Appetizer Round 2:

Morimoto Bone Marrow with teriyaki sauce and five spices. Again, I did not partake of the beef, but I heard this was really good. The bride-to-be kept going back for more. This looked like it was on the fattier side of bone marrows that I've seen, so if the jiggle is your favorite part (it was mine back in the day), you might enjoy this.

Spicy King Crab with tobanjan aioli and micro-cilantro. Okay, this is one of the very few minus points I'm going to give this place. While yummy, I felt the crab was slightly dry and over cooked. I'm sorry, Morimoto! I mean no disrespect! Maybe it was just the piece I had? I'm a crab fan, but I think this was my least favorite app.

And last but not least--The Chef's Selection Sushi Combo. Nigiri from front to back (if I remember correctly)-- medium fatty tuna (dont remember name), hotate (scallop), ebi (shrimp), some fish there's not english name for, sake (salmon), maguro (tuna), saba (mackerel), unagi (eel), hamachi (yellowtail). Around the edges are spicy tuna maki.

There isn't much you can say about nigiri since it's just the fish and rice, but for the ones I tried, the fish tasted very fresh. The rice was very light, flavorful, and not mushy at all. It was slightly sweet with a hint of vinegar tang, and it had just enough texture to complement the smooth, slippery feeling of the fish. The wasabi holding the fish on was a little stronger than what I'm used to (I'm thinking they probably used real wasabi instead of powder), but it didn't detract too much from the fish and rice. Now the spicy tuna rolls...LOVED them. Somehow they were smooth and creamy tasting, and you could tell the tuna was very fresh. I have a feeling that every spicy tuna roll from here on out will pale in comparison to Morimoto's.

For dinner, we had a selection of six entrees, and between the twelve of us, we ordered all of them except the chicken. The chicken got no love.

Whole Roasted Lobster Epice with garam masala and lemon creme fraiche. If I remember correctly, there were edamame sprinkled throughout this dish as well. I'm not a huge fan of lobster, but I had a taste of this and liked it. The seasoning was nice, but I liked the texture of the lobster better than any I have previously tried. It wasn't too mushy or too firm.

Crispy Whole Fish with spicy tofu sauce and papaya salad.
Okay, I'm Asian, and I grew up seeing whole fish on the table. I'm used to fish heads being left on, but seriously? This was kind of scary looking! Still, I was amazed at how they got this thing to stand on its own using just a bit of the tofu sauce and the width gained from stuffing the papaya salad inside. The awesomest thing about this dish (besides the flavor, of course)? They de-boned the whole thing! My biggest pet peeve with whole fish is having to take out the bones. Of course, Morimoto thinks to take care of that for you so that all that's left is for you to enjoy the flavor of the fish. And yes, it was goooooood.

Morimoto 'Pork Chop and Applesauce' with kimchee, bacon and ginger apple puree.
Sorry so blurry! I didn't taste this, but the general consensus seemed to be very positive for flavor and absolute shock for size. Can you tell how big this thing is? I think the plates were somewhere around 10" across, if that helps. Those things were long and super thick.

Sake Braised Black Cod with ginger soy reduction.
This was mine. OMG, this was good! The fish was tender yet not over-cooked. It was the perfect texture, and the flavor was sweet yet savory. This was probably the smallest entree of them all, but oh so worth it to taste the masterpiece of flavor, texture and technique.

Not pictured: Rack of Lamb with sushi rice risotto.
I tried a bite of the lamb, and it was delicious and tender. I didn't try the risotto, but since very few look home leftovers of this dish, I'm going to assume it was good.

Before I move on to the final course of the night, I should mention that at this point, we were all moaning about being too full. When the waiter mentioned bringing out the dessert, we all groaned that we had no room! Or at least we thought we had no room until we saw this...

The Chef's Dessert Trio. They didn't look too rich, so we all resolved to just taste a bit of each.

On the left we have a chocolate sesame cookie with yuzu ice cream. I think there was supposed to be chocolate in the ice cream as well (hence the brown tint), but yuzu was definitely the dominant flavor. On the right is a green tea peanut cookie with chocolate ice cream. Both were incredibly delicate and not rich in the least. Each flavor stood out on it's own while at the same time melding together at just the right level. Does that make sense? In other words, it was delicious.

Citrus mousse (I want to say it was yuzu again) topped with crumble, raspberries and another fruit that I don't remember. Pineapple maybe? This was light, refreshing and slightly tart. This was great as a dessert after such a large meal because it didn't feel heavy or rich.

Famous Morimoto "doughnut" with green tea sugar. The waitress said that people come from all over just to have these donuts. My question is, "why??" I mean, it was definitely good. I liked that it wasn't greasy at all, and that the green tea flavor was light and not too sweat; but I wouldn't drive to Napa just for one of these donuts...and I only live about 1.5 hours away. The texture was denser than a yeast donut but lighter than a cake donut, which was nice, but not mind blowing. Either way, I ate the whole thing. :-P

So, remember how I said we all decided to "just taste" everything? Umm...ya....

We all practically licked our plates. No leftovers. At all. The perfect finish to an awesome meal!

Overall, I loved the Morimoto experience. Not only was the food delicious, but the service was wonderful. The staff was so friendly, honest and specific with recommendations, and accommodating. Morimoto's food style is very delicate and subtle. The dishes shine through texture, technique, freshness, and the ability to distinguish distinct flavors rather than through sauces and complex flavors. I can't wait to go back!

Check out Morimoto Napa's website HERE, and they're yelp reviews HERE.

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