Monday, April 26, 2010

Morimoto, Philadelphia, April 23, 2010. レストラン森本、フィラデルフィア


We finally made an excursion over the weekend to dine "omakase おまかせ menu" at Morimoto in Philadelphia. From the hotel, we walked to Morimoto down Chestnut street. The walk was an interesting mix of inner city decay amid the former splendor of old Philadelphia and the inspiration of new businesses taking root. The block on which "Moriomoto" is located may need more time to fully recover its former glory. Opening the semi-transparent door, the inner decor is certainly not Japanese in any way. The space is deep and narrow with a tall undulating ceiling. In the back, there is a large square counter and the open kitchen and further back the closed main kitchen. Both sides of the main floor are slightly elevated and it is one step up to the tables for two. The center booths are divided by semitransparent Plexiglas low partitions back lit by blue and red neon in the bottom of the partition.  The color of the neon changes every-now-and-then but mostly stays blue giving an impression of the bottom of the sea. We were seated at a table for two on the elevated portion. For us, "midgets", the chairs were too tall--for the first time since childhood, our feet did not touch the ground, and it was not really comfortable. We weren't entirely sure about this interior decor but it does indicate things to come in term of the cuisine. 

The sake selection was very limited (disappointing). We chose a bottle of Akita Komachi Diaginjo 秋田小町大吟醸 from "Yuki no bosha" 雪の茅舎 brewery in Akita 秋田 prefecture of northern mainland Japan. As I tasted it, however, I regretted that I did not order "Wakatake Onigoroshi" 若竹鬼ころし Junmai Daiginjo from Shizuoka 静岡 prefecture which was also in the short list. Akita Komachi was nice enough with a smooth mouth feel with subtle pear and melon notes but it was a bit too sweet for our taste. It reminded me of Kanbara 蒲原 Bride Of The Fox from Niigata 新潟. It appears that both are specifically bottled for export, I wonder the importers must think that most American like this type of sake. We rather prefer a dry, fruity and crisp sake. Their own "Morimoto" branded sake and beer are also available but we did not try.
(Sake bottle image from

After conferring with our server, we decided to order the $120 "Omakase" menu. The dishes came at a good pace--not too fast and not too slow. 


The first course was a rather mundane "Toro tartar" with crisp fried shallot, chive topped with caviar and a small amount of broth in the bottom made of dashi, mirin, and soy sauce. The wasabi that accompanied it appears to be from a real wasabi daikon 山葵大根. The toro was too finely mashed and we would have preferred finely diced instead. The crispy fried shallot was very nice. The sauce was too sweet. The caviar must have been North American (may have been even Paddle fish caviar) and did not add much. They gave us a small stainless steal spoon but we would have preferred non metal spoon for this dish.

Next came three "Kumamoto oysters on the half shell", with three different toppings; momiji oroshi 紅葉おろし, which is daikon and hot red pepper grated together, ceviche sauce with cilantro, Yuzu soy sauce with a thin slice of Jalapeno pepper. Kumamoto is one of our favorite oysters (eaten raw). It was excellent and we liked it very much. 

This must be meant as a "salad". Several nice slices of "Kanpachi" (young Hamachi) sashimi with micro greens" dressed in yuzu vinaigrette.  The Kanpachi slices were placed on a wasabi cream sauce. It was nice but I was not sure about the wasabi-cream sauce. 

We must be moving toward cooked items on the menu and as a liaison between "raw" to "cooked", we got "Tile fish carpaccio topped with uni, chives and tarragon and heated sesame oil yuzu dressing". (When it was served, the dish was cold.) Tile fish or "amadai" 甘鯛 is rather delicate and the hot sesame oil cooked the fish just a little. We found the sauce to be too overwhelming for this delicate fish.

At some point (unfortunately, neither of us can remember exactly when) but most like between the raw and cooked courses we were served a "palate cleanser". It was a small tall glass of carbonated beverage with a sweet mildly rose flavor. 

We were now deeply into the "cooked" course which consisted of half a small "Baked or sautéed Lobster with spicy rub and vegetables. Instead of butter for dipping, it was served with a creme fraiche and Yuzu mixture. One of the characteristic ways Japanese serve lobster, Japanese "Iseebi" prawn, or crab is so that you do not have to struggle trying to remove the meat from the shell. In the presentation at Morimoto, although the claws were cracked, we had to use our fingers and chopsticks to dig the meat out. In the end fingers and chopsticks were not the most appropriate utensils for the task and we were forced to leave some of the meat behind. Although the server warned us that the lobster may be very spicy, it was not. While the Yuzu-flavoured creme fraishe was nicely inventive, it clearly had been put into the ramekin the night before. Taste-wise it did not do much to me. I rather prefer simple melted butter and lemon. At the completion of the course we were presented with a "hot towel" to clean our hands. It was in the style of a Japanese "oshibori" おしぼり but was much larger and bulkier--essentially an American washcloth.  It had a rancid moldy smell that certainly did not add to the dining experience. 

The turf part of Moromoto "Surf and Turf" entree consisted of "Wagyu" Fillet mignon.  It was totally unmemorable and a bit over cooked to my taste.

Now comes "shime" 締め or ending dish which is 5 pieces of "nigiri sushi". Our sushi rice connoisseur (my wife) immediately said "not enough vinegar in the rice". Chu-toro was good but not exceptional. Raw octopus was nice since it is difficult to have in the U.S. but not the best we had.

Desert (strawberry mousse with chocolate cake) is more mundane American; not bad especially since it was not overly sweet but hardly creative.

We are glad we finally dined at Morimoto. We had been looking forward to it for quite some time. The food can best be described as a very good fusion with a heavy Japanese influence--we definitely would not describe it as a "Japanese" restaurant. At this price point, we were not particularly impressed but that could be because we were expecting something else. We had the same feeling after eating at "Nobu" in New York where Morimoto used to be an executive chef. We are not into Japanese fusion dishes that much, I guess. 

The sake tasted better with the food since the sweetness was dampened by the sweet taste of the sauces. After checking out the price at which I could have bought this sake at home (which I will not do), however, I found that, at $160, the mark up was over 150%--that is somewhat steep. 


Tobias said...

Japanese food and fancy plastic fantastic interior does not go well together. Same with Nobu in Tokyo/Roppongi. I dont like it. For the same price I can go to my favorite Izakaya 5 times

Uncle N said...

Tobias, I can not agree more. Only problem for us is finding such Izakaya here.

Jon said...

Did I mention that I'm from Philadelphia and thought Morimoto was overpriced and under-skilled? I was pretty sad that my friends insisted on going there (while I was on vacation from Tokyo!) and thought that colored my judgement, but your review sounds a lot like my experience.
How do they get 'Bride of the Fox' from those kanji?

Uncle N said...

Jon, "Bride of the Fox" ”狐の嫁入り" is only written in English in the separate label above the "Kanbara" label.
Please see

Cathy B said...

This reminds me of the fabulous dinner we had in NYC!! I still talk about the chilled bamboo cup for the sake!

Uncle N said...

That indeed was a wonderful meal!