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Los Angeles Chowhound at Morimoto


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Los Angeles Chowhound at Morimoto

Tom Armitage | Jun 30, 2004 01:29 AM

I've read some of the previous--and conflicting--reports on Morimoto posted on the Pennsylvania Board. And just now, before posting my report, I discovered that yesterday a New York Chowhound had posted a disappointing experience at Morimoto. Here's my report.

Despite the over-the-top excessiveness and gaudiness of the production, you drool at the spectacularly creative dishes prepared on the Iron Chef TV show. Then your travels take you to Philadelphia, and you think that you’ll get some semblance of that creativity at Iron Chef Morimoto’s restaurant. So you decide to spend the big bucks and go for it. This was the rough sequence of events for this Los Angeles Chowhound.

My wife and I have spent twenty years as serious eaters and students of sushi and sashimi. We’ve eaten at most of the best sushi restaurants on the West Coast. We’re always anxious to try new things. There’s virtually nothing that we don’t eat, so nothing’s off limits. Bring on the cod sperm sacs and the crab brains. We explained all this to our waiter at Morimoto, and then waited to be dazzled by unusual and seasonal ingredients and new and creative combinations of tastes and textures.

We sat at the sushi bar directly across from Morimoto-san. With the exception of two Japanese customers, he totally ignored the customers at the sushi bar. Efforts to communicate with him were futile. We wouldn’t have been bothered by this arrogant anti-social behavior if the food had been spectacular. Alas, it wasn’t.

The “omakase” at Morimoto isn’t a true chef’s choice. It’s a set price-fixed menu. If you ask your waiter what dishes are included in the omakase menus, he’ll tell you. There’s no apparent spontaneous “choice” here, based on the chef’s selection of ingredients that he deems to be special or outstanding that evening. The restaurant’s use of the term “omakase” is false advertising. The most expensive “omakase” menu ($120 per person) loads up on expensive ingredients like caviar, lobster, and Kobe beef, rather than reflecting the time and difficulty of extremely labor-intensive methods of preparation.

The $120 “omakase” included six dishes and six pieces of nigiri sushi. Only three of the dishes displayed a hint of "Iron Chef" creativity. The sushi ranged from mediocre to awful.

The three creative dishes were (1) a lightly poached Kumamoto oyster served in a cup with seaweed and “seaweed glue” (slimy but delicious), (2) sautéed ayu on eggplant with anago jelly, and (3) aji with hot olive oil and yuzu (this was our favorite dish). A fourth dish, hamachi salad, wasn’t all that creative, but was good nonetheless. The fifth dish, eight-spice lobster, was tender and moist, but I’ve had much more creative and delicious preparations of lobster. The sixth dish, a small slice of Kobe beef topped with a small piece of seared foie gras and served over sweet potatoes, was totally uninteresting, and the beef was overcooked. The low point of the meal was the nigiri sushi. The chutoro, kampachi, and red snapper were just okay, but the kohada and akagai were way off the mark. My wife and I waived off the saba and requested engawa, which again was only just okay. We’ve had much better sushi at run-of-the-mill sushi restaurants in Los Angeles. In addition, the selection of fish is much more extensive at most Los Angeles sushi restaurants.

The restaurant seemed to be filled with a substantial number of celebrity seekers who knew nothing to little about Japanese food in general, or sushi in particular. For example, the woman who sat next to me at the sushi bar was from West Virginia and had never had sushi or sashimi in her life. Nor was she going to do the “raw fish thing” that night. She ordered Kobe beef as her only dish. Perhaps this is part of the restaurant’s problem. Later, when Philadelphians asked me about my experience at Morimoto, most seemed shocked by my negative review. The typical comment I received was that “everyone they had talked to” thought it was one of the best sushi restaurants in the United States, if not the world. Huh?

All in all, Morimoto was a huge—and hugely expensive—disappointment.

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