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Morimoto Napa

It's long been a dream of mine to eat at one of Morimoto's establishments since he is one of my favorite chefs; I've been a fan since I started cooking/getting into food after graduating and learning about Top Chef. So when I heard that his Napa Valley place was opening the same weekend I would be in the area I knew that the fortunes of fate were shining on me.

The food was phenomenal, I can easily describe the meal as one the best I have ever had the chance to eat and it is my #1 for sushi.

Appetizer: My friend and I started with the signature Tuna Pizza (sliced Big-Eye Tuna Sashimi, anchovy aioli, olives, and jalapenos all on a toasted flat bread) and it was delicious! No component of the dish was muddled or overpowered by any other ingredient; rather they all played together in an awesome symphony of tastes that was indescribable. That was the great thing about this dish, I could savor it as a whole or upon trial identify each of those components and savor them as I wished.

Sushi:
Since it had been so long since I've had sushi in any place I really overindulged and did the $75 Chef's Choice (I chose sushi over sashimi). I received the most expertly prepared and freshest fish to date. The sushi rice itself was great and the chef's were really in touch with the fish since each piece of nigiri had the right amount of wassabi to compliment the entire piece. Here is a breakdown of the $75 plate:
Nigiri (2 of each):
Chu-Toro
Hamachi
Maguro
Sake
Tai
Saba
Ebi
Mirugai
Unagi
Tamago-like cake

Gunmaki:
Tobiko
Hirame

Rolls (6 pieces each):
Shrimp Tempua
Spicy Tuna
Negihamachimaki

My friend went with the $35 sampler and got about 10-12 pieces which was still a decent selection for the price.

The bar had a really good selection of signature cocktails, Morimoto Ales, and Sake; but I wound up going with the Hitachino Belgian White which I developed a taste for at Providence. The space is very modern with a bunch of different dining options available (small table, big 10+ tables) bar/lounge seating, outdoor, etc... Plus the artwork is very avant-garde and adds an element that brings the restaurant together. Likewise, the service was impressive. All of the servers/bussers/hostesses were knowledgeable, nice, and professional. I talked with many of the staff and they all mentioned how much they enjoyed working there (albeit only the 2nd day of service).

In sum, Morimoto is an excellent addition to the Napa Valley IMHO all fills a much needed sushi niche. I will be back in the future to sample the entree side of the menu and partake in more sushi. Plus, I got to meet Morimoto and chat with him for a few, he is a nice guy and I hope to try some of the places back east as well!

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Chef's Choice
, Oakland, CA 94601

 
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  1. Thanks for the review, I can't wait to try this place!

    1. Two of us visited Morimoto Napa last night and can say it is either not ready for prime time or going on a very divergent path from the early restaurants of Masaharu Morimoto. We both chose the eight course omakase menu ($110 each, eighth course is dessert) which is identical for all diners.

      Highlights:
      - Morimoto's interpretation of tuna tartare is always fun (he serves this in NYC at least), and the fish always of highest quality. Pic: http://imgur.com/LzYYa.jpg
      - Five spice lobster was delicious, although slightly overcooked. It was served with a mild lemon creme fraiche. The Wagyu beef was perfectly cooked and seasoned in some way I do not recall. Pic: http://imgur.com/omgD6.jpg
      - A fondueish dish was served - in an oil was an anchovy paste served above a tea light. This was delicious on cauliflower, croutons, and radishes. Pic: http://imgur.com/82DNR.jpg

      Lowlights:
      - Unless prompted, little or no explanation was provided for the dishes when served. Even when prompted, the waitstaff had difficulty recalling the contents of the dishes. I can understand the lack of full recall in the early stages of an opening, but the idea that dropping a dish without explanation is ridiculous on a tasting menu.
      - The wine program is not yet up to speed with the location. I requested a sommelier and requested advice for pairing- his descriptions revolved around the popularity of the wines rather than the qualities of them. Also, he incorrectly attributed the wine we chose under his guidance to a particular prestigious producer. I am guessing they may not have an actual sommelier on the staff yet. Also, they do not have a single half bottle on the menu which makes pairing via bottles difficult for a party of two.
      - Dessert was horrible. A pistachio ice cream was served with a poached peach (and some forgettable sauce). I am not sure how they managed to remove all taste from the peach and possibly inject some foulness into it, but they did. Absolutely foul. Pic: http://imgur.com/qp19x.jpg
      - To return to the five spice lobster dish above- served alongside the lobster and beef were ridiculously overcooked slices of pork loin served with a sauce and garnish without flavor. No idea what they were thinking pairing two rich and delicious meats with something that one might find on an airline.
      - Raw fish was served at warm or room temperatures- not sure if it sat around before being brought to the table.
      - House sparkled water was $5/bottle. I'm a fan of carbonating in-house but the pricing should reflect something closer to reality.

      On non-food notes:
      - Morimoto already took off- apparently he's taping new Iron Chef episodes and then opening a new restaurant in Hawaii.
      - They've not figured out the heating outside- with the exception of one table, all diners seated outside moved inside while we were there. They try to seat most parties outside at first. They also leave the patio doors open leading to some cool breezes in the dining room.
      - Service was so-so on the basics front. We refilled our own wine and water glasses. Pacing was inconsistent. No questions were asked when half-eaten plates were going back.

      In all, a somewhat disappointing experience. Good courses were quite good (there are several I didn't document) but some components and the dessert from hell really left a mark. I have a feeling those visiting Napa from less foodie areas may enjoy the experience but anyone local to the bay area has access to much better Japanese. I did visit Morimoto NYC soon after it opened, complete with the chef in the kitchen, and it was a markedly better experience with more creativity in the dishes and much more attention to quality. I'd love to see the Napa restaurant improve but given that the chef has already moved on to other priorities I somehow doubt it will.

      -----
      Morimoto
      610 Main Street, Napa, CA

      12 Replies
      1. re: a geek

        Love the shot of the tuna tartare, could you tell us what the components are?

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Surprised to see the raspberry looking object on the ice.
          The photo isn't perfectly clear, but it looks like a "su-momo" which is a kind of fruit that one sees in Japan, but I have never seen them in the U.S. I believe this one is bottled.

          1. re: Tripeler

            Thank you . . . most of my curiosity was about what that raspberry thingie might be!

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Yep Tripeler is right, it should be a yamamomo, aka "mountain peach" or "yang mei" as it would be known in China.

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yamamomo

              I assume su = vinegar or in this case marinated/preserved.

              It acts as a palette cleanser. Nobu (restaurant) has a toro tartare appetizer dish similar to Morimoto in that they have the yamamomo on the side, but very different in presentation otherwise. In fact the same Nobu tartare dish is/was available at Jin Sho in Palo Alto (run by two ex-Nobu chefs), and one time we saw the chefs at JS remove the yamamomo from a jar to apply the finishing touches of the dish.

              -----
              Jin Sho
              454 California Ave, Palo Alto, CA

              Morimoto
              610 Main Street, Napa, CA

          2. re: Melanie Wong

            It's a fatty tuna in a very fine mince with nori, wasabi, creme fraiche, chives, avocado, and crunchy rice bits. The cup contains what seemed like a soy broth. There's a small metal spatula in the same bowl to scoop everything up.

            K K is right on the palate cleanser.

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            K K Cafe
            3095 McKee Rd, San Jose, CA 95127

            1. re: a geek

              Whoops I must have had painting on my mind when I meant palate...

              And yes, Morimoto used to work at Nobu as a head chef. For sure his tuna tartare was inspired by Nobu's toro tartare or the Tasmanian salmon tartare with caviar as seen in the link below

              http://www.nyrestaurantinsider.com/oc...

              Morimoto's recent book (circa 2007/2008) has pics of the tuna tartare, as well as many receipes of his restaurant dishes. You might find it at your local library too.

              -----
              Morimoto
              610 Main Street, Napa, CA

              1. re: a geek

                Thanks much for the details. Thought those might be exploded rice grains.

              2. re: Melanie Wong

                favorite meal of the year (over Benu)
                toro tartare garnishes -- wasabi, sour cream, nori no tsukudani, chives, avocado puree, rice cracker
                enjoyed:
                yose tofu, rock shrimp tempura, foie gras takoyaki, kakuni, 16 oz australian wagyu, braised black cod, whole roasted lobster with garam masala, sea urchin carbonara, duck duck goose with frozen foie

                -----
                Benu
                22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                1. re: ankimo

                  Nice. I'm hoping to hear an opinion on the ramen.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    More than a year later, but I just had the ramen tonight - excellent! It's not like most other ramen though - the noodles are white, medium width, and straight. They're slightly chewy - dangerously close to being too soft, but thankfully not. The chicken is good - nothing too notable. The broth is really good - strong chicken flavor without being overly salty.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      i went there about six months ago and had the ramen. i thought the noodles were great but the broth is chicken broth. it is good, but it tasted more like very good homeade chicken noodle soup than ramen.

                      he has the recipe in his cookbook.

                2. re: a geek

                  Conversely, we enjoyed the omakase quite a bit. The highlights for us were the toro starter, the bagna cauda, the foie gras chawan mushi, and the lobster/beef/pork (our pork was fine although it's the weakest of the 3). The dishes are quite a bit different than what you normally see in Napa Valley although it's pricey. But it'll be our primary sushi spot for sure, and I'm looking forward to trying out the rest of the dishes.

                  As for the kinks, the manager mentioned they only had a little more than 2 weeks I think to prep for opening as supposedly there was some uncertainty on when it would open vs. the other openings Morimoto is working on. Apparently, they then received an unexpected "go" for Napa. Usually, they aim for closer to 2 months for openings. The waiters have a fairly thick binder of information on ingredients and dishes that are foreign to many local service staff in the area which were rapidly poached. That's going to be a flat learning curve. The same is probably going to be true of some of the local line chefs poached. Whether this is all really true or not, I don't know, but the Japanese head service trainer seemed pretty put together. But given the number of new places he's trying to open up, Morimoto might be biting off more than he can chew.

                  But yes, the outdoor seating area was a mess for the first few days. The lighting comes on way too late, the evening breeze is cold even during the summer (and this summer has been fairly cool) as that air goes over the Napa River. Only a few tables are properly positioned over heaters that are probably too far up. They might've fixed it by now. I'd check before sitting outside.

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                  Morimoto
                  610 Main Street, Napa, CA

                3. We didn't eat outside, so can't comment on that.

                  But we're surprised at some of the negative comments, esp those on the correct temp to serve sushi. We've heard from many experts that room temperature (around 70 degrees) is considered optimal for bringing out the flavors and texture. Obviously, it's not stored at this temp-- but once prepared, is allowed to come to room temp for the best flavor (typ takes about 10 minutes).

                  We thought the omakase menu was stellar-- in fact, compared to other local restaurants (La Toque, REDD, French Laundry), with the wine/sake pairing, at $155, it was a bargain-- esp for the level of quality and the amazing knowledge that the servers had of the different menu items. We asked a *lot* of questions about the food (part of the fun for us!), and were very impressed by the answers. Not only did the servers know provenance/purveyors, but they also were well versed in describing the ingredients used, and how the dish was made. Given such an extensive menu, this was extremely impressive-- esp for the first week of operation.

                  We posted a bunch of photos and our impressions here:

                  http://blog.oldworldinn.com/2010/07/m...

                  We're new to posting on chowhound (as evidenced by our double post, deleted above). So if we're not supposed to give links or additional info, please let us know. We want to be good chowhounders. :

                  )

                  -The Innkeepers
                  Napa Old World Inn

                  -----
                  The French Laundry
                  6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Napa Old World Inn

                    Melanie,

                    I enjoyed your review and really related to your feelings on Morimoto. I dined there last Sunday and unfortunately was not as impressed, although I would definitely give it another try. Check out my review below. The pictures can be seen at
                    http://fattyshaddy.blogspot.com/2010/...

                    The excitement of the possibility of seeing Morimoto was quickly met as we strolled past him as we were being seated. The chef, checking each item before it was delivered, was working furiously in the kitchen as a small line of patrons had gathered awaiting a chance to meet him. We knew that would be us waiting in line once our meal was completed.

                    The cocktail and beer selection was solid, centered around Asian flavors such as yuzu, lychee and calpico. The beer and sake menu was dominated by Morimoto branded items, I'm guessing this is where the money is made. We opted for the White Lilly ($11) and Black Obi Soba Ale ($15). The White Lilly was refreshing and crisp, centered around shochu, calpico and yuzu but a little light on the alcohol for a cocktail. Although extremely dark, the Obi was light and complex with layers of flavors.

                    The real task at hand was deciding whether to select the Omakase 7 course menu ($110) or selecting our own dishes based off the reviews we had read. We opted to choose our own items, mainly because we wanted to have a variety of nigiri to try.

                    We started with two cold appetizers, the Toro Tartar ($25) and Tuna Pizza ($18). The Toro Tartar came with six accompaniments, from right to left, nori paste, wasabi, creme fraiche, chive, avocado and crispy rice. The presentation was beautiful, the toro and sauces individually placed in wooden trays on a large bowl of ice with two chilled spatulas to scoop up and mix the ingredients. A small cup of dashi broth added an addition flavor dimension to play with. Above all, this dish was fun and allowed for creativity in mixing the various components.

                    The Tuna Pizza was the dish of the night, as it showcased the creativity of Morimoto's usage of Japanese ingredients in an original manner. The cracker thin crust was covered entirely by tuna sashimi, combined with anchovy aioli, olives and jalapeños. I despise anchovy, but somehow found myself licking this aioli off my fingers. The spice was perfect and all the while the strong flavors never overcame the fresh smooth flavor of the tuna. After it was gone, it made me wanting more.

                    The second round of dishes were hot appetizers. Having read so much about the oyster fois gras ($19), I was very excited to taste the mixture of three rich heavy flavors, uni, fois, and oyster. Unfortunately, this dish just had too much going on. The oyster was overcooked, the thick black sauce overpowered the sweetness of the ocean and fois was lost. It was a fun idea, but not something I'd order again. The second hot appetizer was Morimoto bone marrow ($16).
                    Ever since having Bone Marrow at Wolfgang Puck's CUT, I've been in love with it. Morimoto's version was overpowered with the Teriyaka and spices and lost the delicacy of the marrow itself. Although the presentation was impressive, a genuine Flintstones moment, this dish could've been left out.

                    The main entrees were next, I ordered the Surf and Turf special ($45) and HC had the Sea Urchin Carbonara ($18). The Surf and Turf came with a substantial sized Austrian Waygu Filet covered in puff corn. The steak was done medium rare per my requests and was soft and flavorful. It was a solid filet, but nothing memorable. The Hamachi Guacamole were about eight strips of fish, small chunks of avacado, cilantro, lime and chili oil in a pipet. I was instructed to mix the ingredients together to create the guac. It did taste like guac, but i would've preferred the lobster that Omakase guests received. The potatoes were nice bites, covered salted and fun to eat. Before our dinner that night, we looked the menu over and the Sea Urchin Carbanora was amongst the top of our list. HC had never been a uni fan, but since the uni noodles at Sushi Zo developed an affinity for the rich sea flavor. This Carbanoro's flavor was good, rich creamy but the saltiness of the bacon masked the uni. The noodles themselves were stuck together in a clump and too soft. A fun dish, but could not beat our favorite uni noodles.

                    At this point, we were a little underwhelmed by the meal as a whole, good, unique ideas with decent but not precise execution. As sushi lovers, we were hoping that this would be the nearby great quality Sushi bar we often crave. We ordered Hamachi, Sake, Hirame, Kanpachi, Japanese Tai Nigiri, Chu-Toro, Tako, Mizudako, Hotate Nigiri.
                    Without describing each bite of fish, overall the fish quality was fresh and smooth. The sweetness of the hotate and chu toro was lacking and the sushi rice was hard. Not enough to uproot our fave Nor-Cal sushi place Sushi Zone but a real upgrade to anything in Napa.

                    Our last course consisted of two desserts, Blueberry and Earl Grey Tea Creme Brulee and Morimoto's 'doughnuts.' Similar to the Toro tartar, the doughnuts ($12) were fun, lots of dipping condiments ranging from Japanese molasses and honey lavender to green tea and ginger sugars but not something I'd order again. Adversely the Creme Brulee ($12) was unique and complex layered by tartness of the blueberries, the sweetness of the almond caramel and citrus of the earl grey. The lemon grass sorbet was a refreshing pallet cleanser to finish the meal.

                    Overall the meal was exciting and fun and we will come back for the Omakase if chef Morimoto is around. But the quality of the flavors was far from perfect and there's work to be done if Morimoto Napa.

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                    Sushi Zone
                    75 S San Tomas Aquino Rd, Campbell, CA 95008

                    Morimoto
                    610 Main Street, Napa, CA

                     
                    1. re: klaw

                      I also found the sushi rice to be a bit hard in texture and also bland, lacking in rice vinegar. This was a big disappointment as my expectations were high for the Iron Chef's rice.

                      We absolutely loved the foie gras chawan mushi, so delicate and savory. This was our favorite dish of the night.

                      The uni carbonara was rich and tasty, but in hindsight I agree with your opinion regarding the overpowering bacon.

                      The spicy king crab legs were a steal at $16 for the portion, but the heavy handed seasoning masked the sweetness of the crab. Still fun to eat though, and the meyer lemon helped cut the richness.

                      The trio of sorbet was nice, especially interesting was the raspberry wasabi combination.

                      We had both Morimoto's sake flight and beer, which we enjoyed. The five year aged sake was very interesting, but didn't pair too well with anything. The fermented taste of it was quite strong.

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                      Morimoto
                      610 Main Street, Napa, CA