4 Nights in PHL, pt1 - Morimoto, Foodery, Capogiro
i started a thread looking for suggestions to narrow down some options for 4 nights in philadelphia and thought i'd share my experiences in your lovely city. the original thread can be found here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/633872 my final destination line-up did change as my work demanded it but i think i got in what i really wanted to. i'm going to write-up a post for each day/night in the hopes that it will be more useful... and still not cluttering.
originally i was looking to pair morimoto with an early evening visit to paesano's based on some suggestions that the morimoto omakase, an absolute must for this visit, was rather light. nothing like a roast pork sandwich amuse bouche to start the night. my coworker had made plans to go to the phillies game on monday and since i expected they would be less inclined to go to morimoto out of all of my dining destinations, i decided it would be the omakase for me. i called paesano's ahead of time, worried that the early dinner rush would elude me from having this confit like pork. but much to my disappointment and relief, i learned that they weren't open monday evenings... what to do?
onwards to morimoto, barely at a hum from the early weekday night. with full intentions of getting the omakase i took a seat at the bar in front of chef aoyama who i dearly hope didn't hear the following conversation:
server: is this your first time at morimoto?
me: yes! and i'm very interested in the omakase but my understanding is that you serve a similar set of dishes each time. while i'm sure they're very lovely items i would love to have something different. and if it could include the 10hr kakuni with scallop congee, that would be amazing.
server: well, we could tell them it is your 2nd or 3rd visit...
me: could you?
server: sure, i will also ask chef about it but i can't guarantee you the pork
me: i'll take what i can get!
after ordering the 5yr morimoto sake and turning back towards the bar it was to my chagrin that lovely chef aoyama began talking to me and presenting dishes at his workstation not more than 24 inches away from my deep voiced server and our very candid conversation. if he ever knew about the deception, i will never know as he was so gracious to serve me such beautiful food. i can't say much about the 5yr sake as its potency makes it a bit difficult for me to discern flavours, but at the least the menu description was spot on. certainly something i would sip at the end of an evening but too powerful for the start. very lovely.
he quickly started me with a thick earthy and smooth blended tofu and soy milk layered with a piece of sweet, fruity and ever so creamy uni dotted with wasabi and surrounded with a slightly gelled kombu. it was a really interesting textural delight but i had to separate out the uni to really enjoy it on its own since i rarely have them from cali and these were beautiful.
next was a shockingly brightly coloured cured sockeye salmon with a salmon mousse in the centre and a dollop of ossetra caviar on top. fine sea salt was sprinkled lightly around with an oil i couldn't identify. the salmon was a great subtle salmon flavour, not fishy and not too salty and this is where i felt the salt on the dish was necessary to compliment the fish more. the salmon mousse was overpowering if one tried to take a bite with each element of the dish in combination. it was so smooth and light but the sweetness and richness was no match for the sockeye but combined really well with the caviar.
a bowl of aromatic and rich thai broth as clean looking as a consomme was ladled into a bowl and a piece of tempura red snapper gingerly placed in the centre. it was garnished with fine curly shreds of scallion. the scent coming off of this dish was just amazing... it was so concentrated and intense but well blended. i suspect there were dashes of lime and fish sauce in it but they were so perfectly in balance it was difficult to determine any one in particular. the only disappointment was that the fish was definitely overcooked and that the tempura could not hold up it's texture, but that's to be expected.
the final course of the first half was a lightly in-shell grilled with some dashi spiny conch cousin that was sliced up and placed back in it's shell. i thought this one was only ok. i could see potential in it but there was a displeasing bitterness to some parts of the conch that i wasn't entirely sure should have been there.
intermezzo was a refreshing strawberry and lime soda that was a touch too synthetic tasting on the strawberry for me but mild enough it wasn't noticeable.
i cannot express the inner disappointment i felt and the incredible struggle i was going through to politely smile as a plate with a fillet of bass, a couple stalks of thin gai lan, a smattering of carrot chunks, and a swirl of pale yellow sauce was placed before me. additionally i don't think i could ever properly express the elation i experience after i took my first bite. it was perfection on a plate. it's simplicity belied it's ethereal properties and reminded me exactly what omakase is about. the fish was cooked to the second of perfection and the skin was so shatteringly crispy. it was just so barely sweet and hearty (i say this rather than rich because i wasn't overwhelmed by any fattiness) that it was perfectly matched with the slight bitterness of the al dente gai lan. and though i don't feel the carrot added much, it certainly was far from bad. the pale yellow swirl was a thick and smooth miso butter sauce every so slightly tinged with miso and a really perfect compliment to everything on the dish and added just the right amount of richness. i had to contain myself not to lick the plate.
now after that, my requested 10hr kakuni on scallop congee arrived (noticeably a smaller portion than a regular order, very fair and really wonderful they did it for me) and while still riding the high of my bass it felt like it was certainly well executed but hardly different from when i attempted it at home myself. i did neglect the burdock shavings and making the scallop congee (c'mon people.... the pork cooks in a whole lotta brown rice... you can't tell me you wouldn't eat the litres of rice that had pork belly fat rendered right into it?) and i seriously regret that now. the scallop congee was again just really perfect. it was laced with the scallop flavour and the texture was nice and creamy. i only wished they hadn't put so much of the sugar/soysauce/mirin reduction in it as the sweetness was overpowering. the earthiness of the burdock root was impossible to ignore and really a fantastic counterpoint to the richness of the pork. i'd say you couldn't eat it with a spoon, but it was pretty darn close and one of the moistest porks i've had in a similar preparation. still tasty, but replicable at home - with the cookbook of course.
thinking that there was no way i could go wrong, i've tried using morimoto's su recipe for sushi rice at home. it was alarmingly salty. so it was no surprise that when my nigiri course arrived i had to try a few grains on its own... salty. nothing really much more than salt. no dashi elements, no sweet or vinegary from mirin... salty. nearly forgivable when each grain of rice was cooked to perfection (wow, i'm hoping i'm not giving you the idea that things are perfect to me a lot... i'm quite critical!) and completely identifiable as individual grains. they also held up very well to chopstick use without being compacted too much as i doubt most people are using their fingers to eat sushi at morimoto. i had the chu-toro, skipjack, golden big eye snapper, sima aji/striped jack, orange clam. all among the better pieces of sushi i've had but the snapper and clam stood out the most for their clarity of flavour and impeccable texture. i've had chutoro in japan that resembled the o-toro they're serving at morimoto, but of course i'll forgive the sourcing distance! the temperature was also spot on.
to finish i had a stunning plate of a very supple and mildly flavoured white chocolate bavarian dotted with a sweet blueberry compote and crumbles of caramel brittle. for the most part i found it rather simplistic though texturally nice but the crumbles of brittle is what put it over the top. i will be crumbling my own brittle very soon!
as much as i'm using the word, it certainly wasn't all perfect. in some senses the experience felt more like comfort food than really nouveau japanese cuisine but the essence of what i expect from japanese cuisine often shone through: a respect for ingredients, a very good understanding of the delicate balances in flavour and texture, and the boldness to be subtle sometimes.
i would go again... and i did! but that's for a future post.
FOODERY - 10th and Pine
my very full belly and i walked over to 10th and pine to pick up some beer. i don't have much to say, this is your local beer store but this is a haven for someone like me who loves american microbrews but has so little access to them. i just wanted to note that the foodery here and the one in northern liberties are very loosely connected so i wasn't able to get anything from the NL one transferred to this one and they have entirely different buying people so their stock is also quite different. also wanted to note that i got a good workout hauling a dozen beers + in my purse and an extra bag i brought... very important for all the eating.
CAPOGIRO - 13th St
before i start on this part... i just want to say you are all very lovely people, but dear lord this is NOT gelato. i had intended in all my excitement to end up at capogiro each evening. they were for the most part within walking distance of many of my destinations or just so in line with my paths that i couldn't not stop in. but i did not stop in because it just wasn't what i wanted. if you somehow managed to make it through the morimoto report, you've probably notice that texture is important in everything i eat. texturally the capogiro gelato was closer to soft serve than gelato to me. it was too airy and light and didn't have that luxuriant density i expect from gleato. the chocolate ones were closer but still not quite right and lacking richness. that being said, the flavours are fantastic. they're intense and the unusual ones are pulled off very well. i ended up with a champagne mango (atalufo and really nicely fruit forward) and rosemary, honey, goat's milk (a bit too piney and really strong honey tones but great if you have another contrasting gelato to mange in between). so no offense... they have their strengths, but it is difficult for me to call this gelato.