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Morimoto review (long)

  • b

Last Thursday, its second day open, my Dad and I dropped by Morimoto at 6 to see if we could get in. We did, and here's my review.

When we asked if there was room for two, they said, "Yes, at the sushi bar." That was odd because the restaurant was almost deserted, but since I prefer to sit the at sushi bar anyway, it was fine by me. Then they sat us at the corner of the sushi bar, where because of a Japanese decorative arrangement in front of us we could neither see nor communicate with the chefs. Again, odd. I really didn't mind, but it didn't go unnoticed that with the place literally about 90% empty that we got seated in perhaps the worst two seats in the house. Hm.

The emptiness of the place created a rather comical effect. There were 3 to 4 dozen staffers milling around, not counting the chefs, and maybe 12 actual customers total. I don't know why so many people were working the floor; perhaps some were consultants supervising the operation. Whatever, it amusing to see the waitstaff outnumber the clients 4 to 1. It was closer to even by the time we left, but the staff was still larger. Gonna be hard to make money that way. At least the service was lightning-fast; it would have been inexcusable if it hadn't been, considering.

The decor is almost as over the top as the truly wacky "under the sea" theme in Philly, but not quite. I would describe the theme as "discotheque on the moon." It's all billowing ivory curtains (even across the ceiling), refracted light and mirrors. Tables and chairs are translucent plastic. It all has a very space-age look, underlined by automatic sliding doors at the main entrance. I think a lot of New Yorkers will snicker at it, but it's certainly original if nothing else.

Morimoto himself was in the rear corner, tending to a special omakase-only section where diners sit shoeless, as if worshipping his Iron Chef-ness. Clearly they're going to make it hard to sit in front of him, and they're going to make you pay. Both time I dined in Philly I ended up right across from him without even planning to do so -- I guess those happy days are over.

Before I get to the food I have to mention the excellent cocktails. I love yuzu more than any flavor in the world, so I was delighted to see they had two yuzu-based drinks, both made with shochu. The better of the two was called Thunder Lightning, and it mixed shochu, ginger, and fresh yuzu juice. It was flat-out amazing. Yuzu fans should visit the lounge just for this. You could tell they used fresh yuzu in the drink -- I had just been enjoying the yuzu margaritas at Hedeh a few days earlier, and while those were good, the Thunder Lightning tasted much fresher and better. Presumably Morimoto uses fresh yuzu (very hard to get in the States) and Hedeh uses the bottled stuff.

Both times I've been to Morimoto in Philadelphia I've chosen the omakase, which was stupendous both times (better than Nobu -- yes, it was THAT good.) This time I decided to try the regular menu. It's been changed quite a bit from the Philly one. Most notably, the Nobu ripoff dishes are gone, which is good. In Philly he had several dishes that were idential to Nobu trademark ones with a small twist (e.g., Black Cod in Miso...with a little Chinese mustard!) Alas, they were simply not as good as the Nobu originals. Someone realized they wouldn't fly in NYC and booted them.

We ordered six dishes:

YELLOWTAIL PASTRAMI: Six pieces of yellowtail that had been cured into "pastrami", served with a smear of gin creme fraiche, a single candied olive, and (for some strange reason) a breadstick. A very interesting dish, as the fish actually did taste like pastrami. The waitress said it had been house cured in spices and brown sugar. This is the kind of clever, cuisine-defying dish that won Morimoto so many admirers on Iron Chef. I was glad I tried it, but it was more interesting than good -- it certainly wasn't as good as the trademark sashimi dishes at Nobu, which I order time and time again. This isn't something I'd need to order twice.

EEL AVOCADO MAKI: I ordered this last, and expected it to come last, since sushi usually does. But they surprised me by bringing it at the very beginning along with the yellowtail pastrami. This was a roll made with barbequed eel, avocado, and shiso leaf, and it was terrific -- possibly the best sushi roll I've ever had. The kick of the shiso really amped the whole thing up. I don't think I'll be able to order the eel avocado roll at Friend House ever again.

TUNA PIZZA: A crumbly flatbread topped with bluefin tuna sashimi, a wonderful aioli made with anchovies, and a touch of jalapeno. This was flat-out *wonderful*, easily the best dish of the night. A must-get. This is the one dish that stands up to the much-beloved staples at Nobu. All the wonderful tastes combined into something even better together. I'll order it every time I visit Morimoto from now on.

SASHIMI SALAD: The closest thing to a dud we had. It was a small salad of baby greens and tiny vegetables (like an centimeter-long carrot) with a yuzu vinagrette. Six pieces of assorted sashimi were presented seperately. Although the sashimi was beautiful and the greens were of excellent quality, this one just didn't move me. The dressing was so subtle that it had little flavor. Serving the sashimi seperately was a mistake, because it emphasized how little it really had to with the salad -- unlike the sashimi salad at Nobu, where the soy dressing ties everything together, this didn't seem like a salad that especially ought to have raw fish on it. Overall, it was a very small salad with bland dressing and incongruous sashimi for a whopping 21 dollars -- yikes. Not high marks for this one.

RED CLAM MISO SOUP: A surprisingly hearty soup, served in a surprisingly generous portion. If you're looking for a cheap way to fill up among all the expensive and tiny appetizers, this isn't a bad bet. The soup is a very thick and heavy red miso and clam broth containing about 10 manila clams in opened shells. As it was served, a waiter grated a yuzu fruit over the soup to let the zest sprinkle across the top -- yum! I think of miso soup as light, so the stoutness of this one was a pleasant shock. It's very rich, smoky and salty and I found myself feeling full by the time I finished, even though I was splitting it. I liked this dish a lot. I remember ordering the miso soup at Nobu the first time I went and being disappointed to discover that it was just like the miso soup at the corner sushi joint. This one, to put it mildly, is not. An good winter soup, and a must-get for anyone who loves miso soup.

BURI BOP: Morimoto's fusion of bi bim bop and donburi. The dish was presented decontructed, with the hot stone pot filled with seperate piles of rice, yellowtail sashimi, cirtusy spinach, egg, daikon, and I'm not sure what else. The waiter poured in some sesame-plum sauce and then mixed everything up, putting the sashimi against the walls of the pot to cook as he did so. That was a little gimmicky, but the yellowtail did indeed cook -- by the time we got to the bottom of the dish, the remaining fish was actually well-browned. This was a very nice dish; it wasn't mindblowing, or even terribly original, but it was rich and filling and delicious in an understated way. Really quite nice. I'd get it again.

So -- one great dish (two, if you count the sushi roll). One dud. Rest were pretty good but not awe-inspiring. It wasn't as good as the first meal I ate at Nobu, or either of the omakases at Morimoto Philadelphia, but it was an fine experience overall.

Will the place succeed? I think it will, although many people will be turned off by the fact that it's arguably second-rate Nobu cuisine at prices even higher than Nobu's. But for fans of Iron Chef or just fearless cuisine generally, it's well worth a visit. I'll be back. Next time I'll get the omakase -- I'll be interested to see if the NYC version is as generous and excellent as the ones I had before.

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  1. Excellent review. I enjoyed reading it. Can you let us know prices? Also, any sneak peaks at what the I.C. was cooking up for his omakase?

    3 Replies
    1. re: Silverjay

      This guy has already had the omakase 5 times!...with pictures of every course.....


      1. re: MMM

        Now that's "disposable income".

        1. re: Silverjay

          Silverjay: if you want to know prices, check the complete menu here: http://menupages.com/restaurantdetail...

          Looking at the photos of all the omakase dinners, it looks like the omakase at Morimoto NYC is every bit as amazing the ones I had in Philadelphia. The first time I ate at Morimoto Philly, it was the best meal I've EVER had. It blew the one omakase I had at Nobu out of the water.

    2. *
      * (formerly dkstar1)

      Thanks for the excellent review.

      Link: http://www.bigapplediningguide.com

      1. WOW - Great review - Thanks

        1. Excellent review.

          I was on the opening staff of another Starr restaurant in Philly. For the first week, we had every single staff member, in uniform, on the floor during dinner. That's just how he does it...

          1. l
            LES Resident

            FYI-You can get pastrami salmon everyday at Russ & Daughters. It's great.

            1. Thanks for a terrific review, Bailey. I felt like I was right there the way you described the decor, the buzz and the food. Really kept my attention! Keep those reviews coming! We need more hounds like you!

              1. What a well done review.

                You said that Morimoto's is arguably 2nd rate Nobu cuisine, more expensive, but will probably succeed anyway.

                Since you obviously been to Nobu several times before and enjoyed it; I was wondering if you've ever been to his original restaurant in L.A.: Matsuhisa? And if so, what year(s) were you there and how you would compare it to Nobu - New York?

                3 Replies
                1. re: JBC

                  I've been to Matsuhisa -- although some time ago -- and to a bunch of the others (NY, Miami, Vegas, and, believe it or not, Mykonos). Unless they've redone the place, Matsuhisa is smaller and less opulent (in a good way) than the others. The focus seemed more on the food, less on the decor and the scene. The others all are similar in style. With one exception, the food is virtually identical at all of them -- the menu is the same, and the quality seemed to me to be about the same. The complaint on this board about Nobu is that the menu never changes and the food seems a bit formulaic at this juncture. That's a valid criticism, and never more apparent than when you see the similarity at the various outposts. But it's still very, very good. And, considering that it's now certifiably a "chain," it's really much, much better than Wendys. The exception is Mykonos: NOT recommended (and arguably not better than Wendys). General rule of thumb -- stick to Greek food on the Greek isles.

                  1. re: JBC

                    Glad you guys liked the review.

                    JBC, I haven't been to LA in years so I can't tell you anything about Matsuhisa. Sorry.

                    I think it's important to qualify what I said about Morimoto being "arguably second rate Nobu" -- the key word there is ARGUABLY. My meal at Morimoto wasn't wall-to-wall five star dishes like my first meal at Nobu was, but then again, when I went to Nobu I knew exactly what to order. I literally had a list of "must-get" dishes written down. Maybe there are six or seven must-gets at Morimoto too and I didn't happen to select them. Also, I think a lot of Nobu lovers are starting to get sick of the same old crap there. The black cod miso is truly amazing, but how many times can you get it? Morimoto offers food which is similar but new and a bit more daring.

                    More importantly, I think Morimoto isn't really about the menu anyway, it's about the omakase -- and my experience with omakase at Morimoto is much better than my experience at Nobu. At Nobu I was given very small plates of dishes which were usually almost identical to ones off the menu (like new style sashimi, but with salmon). It was disappointing. I could have ordered exactly what I wanted off the menu and gotten a bit more food for a bit less money. Whereas both times at Motimoto in Philly, no dish I was given was on the menu, and the servings were much bigger and the ingredients much more impressive. One time the omakase had a toro theme, and in three dishes plus two sushi pieces I was given toro of such quality that I realized that the stuff I'd eaten previously that was called "toro" really wasn't. It was quite an experience. Nobu's omakase couldn't touch that with a stick.

                    1. re: Bailey
                      JBC (semi-long)

                      Thank you Bailey and JGS for replying.

                      The reason why I asked about comparing Matsuhisa (L.A.) to Nobu (N.Y.) is I've never been to the big apple but live in L.A. and have personally been to Matsuhisa over 250 times (5-7 years at 3+ times a month plus before and after that period could be calculated as: 3 X 12 X 6 + 50 = 276). So I know them and their food very well. From people I know personally who've been to both, and your comments confirm this, Nobu is a "chain" restaurant concept taking the great dishes from Matsuhisa and presenting them to various locations around the world. It has been very successful except for the Paris location which was closed down.

                      Everybody I know from L.A. who has been to both much prefers the original because they let the creative dishes (juices) flow. As you've testified here, at Nobu they appear to be under orders to "faithfully" prepare those great, are they "classic" yet?, dishes and "who do you think you are" should you try and make changes to them. Is this a reason why Morimoto left?

                      I've said all this so far because what is interesting to me is your preference to order Omasake (spelling?) because you've had, and are now a little bored with, the standards. In all my visits to Matsuhisa I never once felt the need to ordered Omasake as I developed an excellent rapport with the men, and especially one, behind the Sushi bar so that every visit was Omasake-like. It was kind of like the Ice Skating competition at the Winter Olympics, first are the compulsories and then there's free-style.

                      Based on your reviews and comments, the Omasake at Nobu is basically a re-creation of the standard dishes so what's the point; therefore, you feel you to have to gravitate somewhere else for new - like Morimoto's Omasake (I did look at all the dishes in the excellent
                      blog-review of his Omasake for 6 nights by Augieman{?}). Since Morimoto is now so famous from Iron Chef, with Investors throwing money at him, he probably has plans to open more Restaurants, I don't know how many he has now, so the same rigidity may set in there as in Nobu. One of the important differences between the original Matsuhisa and the other Nobu's is that Nobu owns Matsuhisa personally, I believe this to be true but can't attest to it, and his home is there while the Nobu's are owned by an outside Investor group best know being Robert DeNiro.

                      So maybe your best bet is to get in to Morimoto's as soon as possible, if you can, before it is time for him to open up the next place. At the same time find another Sushi spot somewhere in New York City, there has GOT to be some, where the guy your sitting in front of has the skill and freedom to dazzle your taste buds time and time again. It helps enormously, pretty much required, to develop a great personal rapport with him, and all who work there, so he is self-motivated to try and please you. Ask him what's good today, buy him drinks, take him out to play golf (a home run), etc.

                      If memory serves me correct (a standard opening line form Iron Chef) Morimoto left Nobu to venture out on his own. Has anybody else left Nobu's who has talent?
                      Many have left Matsuhisa and opened up there own spots. If they just copied the original, their dishes were never as good as the original, they often struggled.

                      Have you tried these 3 before ? (then ask for them)

                      Foie Gras Sushi - A piece of cooked foie gras with a thick black eel-like sauce on the same bed of rice as standard sushi. Absoluelty wonderful. It just melts in your mouth and EVERY person I've ever introduce this to at Matsuhisa has purred.

                      Yuzu "Paste" - This stuff, the paste if that's the right word, is remarkable. It is great on a white piece of fish as well as cooked mushrooms over standard sushi slabs of rice. Some sushi bars don't carry it, what a shame.

                      Kampachi with a shiso leaf - Standard sushi fare that I hope Nobu - N.Y. serves. Do they?

                  2. nice review. sounds great.

                    i must say i am more excited about the chef morimoto slew on the iron chef show, cleveland's mike symon, who will exec chef at a new greek small plate restaurant called PAREA. PAREA is next door to GRAMERCY TAVERN and will open up next month. creative food likely more in my price range -- heh!

                    1. This thread really has grown beyond what it should be... back to the basics... Morimoto's restaurant. My girlfiend and I just went today and had lunch there. We are on vacation so we had more of a dinner at lunch. We went to the Chelsea (NYC)

                      We ordered a main course and a desert.
                      MAIN UNAGI / FOIS BOP.
                      Served in a sizzling bowl... a sushi riced topped with chopped braised eel, a small slab of fois gras, chopped avocado, and nori strings has a sauce added to it table side.
                      This was well done. Unagi don is done everywhere but unfortunately few places use finesse when cooking the meat. Often its feared that it will blacken too much so its served under braised. When this is the case with eel ... the fatty skin is gummy and un appetizing... Morimotos hit the nail on the head with this one... the eel was done perfectly. The freshness of the other ingredients was also perfect. The fois gras was braised ... it did not need to be there for it to be a good dish... but it did need to be there to be a good dish in a high calibre restaurant like this. The table side interaction is another thing that makes this dish memorable. I would get this again.
                      MAIN BEEF GYUDON
                      Rice bowl with thinnly sliced cooked beef on top w/ scallion in a soy-ginger reduction. Accompanied with a poached egg and red-picked ginger.
                      My girlfriend says this was sweet and savory. She would get it again.
                      DESERT PECAN BROWNIE
                      Pecan Brownie with expresso cream and expresso iced-cream on top. Garnished with cocoa powder and dark chocolate coffee beans.
                      Rich, with large whole pecans. The texture of the brownie was soft. The expresso cream was smooth and light... and the iced-cream had that strong coffee bite. My girlfriend says it was excellent. She would order this again.
                      PRAYLINE CREME BRULEE
                      A grey-preyline creme brulee with orange sorbet. The creme brulee had uniform temperature (which is important to me) . The texture both of the shell and the custard was what it should be at every other restaurant but seldom is. The orange sorbet was more of a cream-sicle orange than a more citrisy version which went well with the creamy creme brulee. I would order this again.

                      The service was great. It was just a lunch crowd so the lower level was not utilized but most of the seats were used at the highpoint (like 70%) . No complaints here.... we sat at a table on the first floor on the raised area on the right of the restaurant from where you walk in. Its very modern decor, very angled design, fresh wood accents, lots of cool glass work, comfortable leather chairs. There was some kind of music that was playing that must have went well with the restaurant because I do not remember it being obtrusive or loud. The restaurant manager came to speak to us as he was just walking around doing this with everyone as should be in this type of restaurant.... we felt very taken care of.
                      Oh and a note about the toilets... they have the toto... which is the rolls-royce of commodes. Not so much what you want to think about by reading a food review but when is the next time your going to use a toilet worth more than 5k ?

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: ichigo

                        just curious, how much is lunch?

                        1. re: xigua

                          That lunch was under 100 bucks. I dont know if I mentioned it but we had one glass of reisling and one glass of plum sake. Both good and would order them again

                          1. re: xigua

                            Yeah... we went again, this time for dinner. Cant get enough of this place. 'moto is da' man. We didnt have as good as a time this time... but we are trying to taste everything and give it all a chance. Overall we would go back again because 'moto is creative and some dishes are awesome.

                            10 HR PORK
                            A square of seasoned pork over rice porridge. Pork and potatoes... cant go wrong here. It was soft... I mean the only other pork I've had that was this soft was when I went to mexico and it was wrapped in banana leafs and placed on top of embers under ground for a long slow cook. I do not know if I'd get it again but only because the seafood dishes are much better at the restaurant.


                            We also had rolls as an app. ( My girl likes rolls what can I say ). The rice had a well balanced mirin/vinegar-y taste... the nori was soft and the fish was fresh. We appreciated the asparagus in the tempura for its contrast w/ the sweet shrimp. 'nuff said.

                            MAIN COURSE
                            YELLOWTAIL BOP

                            This was the same bop as in the first review... but instead of eel avocado and fois... there was yellowtail. This again was my own fault. Tuna shouldn't be cooked. It just shouldn't.

                            BRAISED BLACK COD
                            The cod was done in mirin/sake/soy/ginger or so the cookbook says. It was soft with a harder outside... nice texture. It tasted sweet. Although its made with soy think about the taste of sugar and mirin and cod. Thats the taste. I researched the dish and evidently its not the first time a variation on this has been done on black cod/sablefish... it works... and we would order it again.

                            COCONUT MACAROON
                            a deconstructed macaroon pile with other stuff going on .. bananas coconut... some other stuff. Unfortunately it wasn't that memorable. My girlfriend says its ok.

                            CHOCOLATE MOUSSE
                            I had the chocolate mousse cake. Eh.... It was alright but I probably wouldn't get it again. Here is the problem. When I think mousse I think smooth in texture. There was a layer of the dessert that was quite thick, like that of a dense wafer. This ruined it for me. I couldn't get past the expectation of the soft texture I had. So far the creme brulee is the only one I would get again for the deserts.

                            Note ... we were with a couple and they had
                            the lobster fritters
                            an eel avocado roll
                            the surf and turf ( which I tasted and It was very good)
                            another shrimp tempura roll
                            the creme brulee
                            and the bitter sweet chocolate

                            They raved about it.

                            Happy Eats :)

                            BAN KAI!

                            1. re: ichigo

                              Thanks for the detailed review! I too visited Morimoto this past weekend and had a very enjoyable time. The decor is fantastic, and the service was very good in general, enthusiastic, efficient and not over mollycoddling. I found the tables spaced pretty well too, so it was not overly cramped or noisy.
                              The food was decent and pricing was comparable to any big box New York eatery, but portions were untrendily hearty.
                              We shared for appetizers the yose dofu, which is a very interactive make your own tofu experience, and the tofu was very silken. Not particularly enamored with the sweet sauce and the lobster meat was a little rubbery however.
                              Chicken ramen soup - not ramen and really salty. We tampered with the soup by adding ocha.
                              Duck, duck, duck - spin on peking duck, down to scallions and the miso (but tastes like hoisin) sauce. Duck egg for dipping purposes was somewhat superfluous The duck was very well cooked though and presentation was great.
                              Sushi platter: Generous and very fresh. The tamago tasted like a sponge cake.
                              Seafood tobanyaki: Did not try it save for a mussel but my cousin commented on its saltiness.
                              We did not get dessert but the restaurant brought up a plate of 3 cute bites to end the night, including a mini chocolate brownie, a cookie and a chocolate truffle. I had mentioned on booking that it was my cousin's birthday was the gesture is greatly appreciate.
                              Pictures and more details here.


                        2. Total agreement with OP on the Tuna Pizza, which initially sound dubious to me. The sashimi of tuna and the aioli blended so well together I wondered why more italians dishes didn't feature raw fish.

                          I'm not sure if the Beef Carpaccio was on the menu since 2006, but in 2008, it is amazing. It's not a completely raw carpaccio, but rather, seared by the hot oil that is drizzled over the meat--tasting like the tenderest, rarest piece of beef I've ever tasted.

                          For the entree, I had the Duck Duck Duck, which was one perfectly seared piece of duck breast, sitting on a cucumber slices and a croissant. The buttery bread of the pastry went really well with the duck. I would kill to learn the knowledge of how Morimoto's kitchen makes duck skin fatty and crisp-glassy at the same time. The three sauces were okay, I thought the dish was good enough without the typical black-bean sauce and the "poached" duck egg that didn't have a tremendous amount of flavor, it seemed to only add creaminess to an already rich dish.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Eaterlover

                            i'm not sure what the big deal is with the tuna pizza. It sort of tastes like upscale chain food, which I guess it actually is. Yes, sashimi of tuna and the aioli go well togerther but the flat bread is mediocore and it is served with unripe cherry tomatoes. The overally quality of ingredients are fair and the dish might have been interesting in Philly in 1999 but it seems pretty dated in 2008 Manhattan.

                            1. re: Eaterlover

                              My experience with the beef carpaccio was less than stellar. I have high doubt that the beef was actually wagyu (which they listed on the menu), and if it was indeed wagyu, that got to be the worst pieces of wagyu beef I ever had. They were tough and not fatty enough and had no flavor. The only flavor that I could tasted in that dish was the oil with scallion.

                              On the other hand, I had the omakase ($200 at that time, not sure if they increased it) in front of Morimoto. That was one of the best omakase I ever had. It was expensive (considered that Per Se's tasting menu was only around $200 at that time), but I thought it was worth it. In the omakase, they did serve real Japanese wagyu (not American wagyu) and it was sensational.

                            2. I just went to Morimoto NYC for the first time last night, and I agree about the staff. The place was practically empty when I got there (just my party, and one other couple) and there were like 10 employees all gathered around the wine area just chatting.
                              The service was very good though.