I'm normally on the Southwest or New Orleans boards here, but I was in Philadelphia a few days ago and had the opportunity to eat at Morimoto and thought I'd share my review. I hope you find it useful.
Lynn was flipping through a Food & Wine magazine and saw a little blurb that about Morimoto's restaurant in Philadelphia (named Morimoto). She had me make reservations on the night that would turn out to be our one year anniversary. When I first heard that the Iron Chef opened a restaurant in Philly I was excited by the prospect of eating there, but after reading quite a few so-so reviews of the restaurant it sounded like we had a reservation with disappoint. I didn't want to have disappointing food on our anniversary, but I decided to stick with the reservations and just try the restaurant out for ourselves.
Our reservations were at 8pm and we promptly arrived early. [That's an intentional play on words in case you missed it.] As soon as we walked up to the yellow glass doors of the restaurant I really started getting excited about the meal. I spoke to the hostess and she told us it would take them a couple of minutes to get our table ready. I didn't mind because it gave me a chance to take in the ambience. The dining room was long and open with a row of two person tables against either wall and two rows of four and six person tables in the middle. In between the tables were low walls made of frosted glass that were eminating a soft blue light. All of the blue light gave the restaurant a very cool feel. The ceiling was made out of light wood flooring and it undulated all the way to the back of the restaurant where the sushi bar was located.
A very cute girl checked our coats and we were seated at one of the small two person tables along the wall. I examined the table and noticed that it was made of frosted yellow glass, and there was a little frosted glass lamp in the center of the table that looked like some sort of vibrator. Both me and Lynn found the lamp amusing, but it later turned out to be a pain in the ass since it couldn't be moved, and it got in the way while we were trying to share food. The Jetsons style chairs we were sitting in also couldn't be moved, which kept frustrating Lynn as she would forgot they couldn't move, and kept trying to move closer to the table every once in a while.
Our waitress came by and gave us both a couple of menus. She was wearing all black. I hate it when the wait staff wears all black. It's like the restaurant is trying so hard to convince you that they're hip that they force their waitrons to dress like coffee house poets. Anyway, we sat and looked and looked at our menus, getting our order together. There were a lot of things we wanted to try so it took us a while. When the waitress came to take our food order she told us they were out of the drunken shrimp. That was disappointing since both me and Lynn wanted to try them, but there was another appetizer which didn't make the first cut that I could fall back on. We ending up ordering hamachi [yellow tail] sashimi, otoro [premium fatty tuna] and unagi [fresh water eel] nigiri style sushi, toro tartare, dote nabe, tempura with gorgonzola sauce (which I've been dieing to try since I first watched Morimoto make iton the one of the all-time great Iron Chef episodesduring the Millenium Battle and heard all the tasters rave about), ramen soup, house green salad, the New York strip steak, and a carafe of Morimoto ginjo sake. The waitress warned us that it was a lot of food, but we know what we're doing, and that sounded just about right.
As me and Lynn sat there waiting for our food, we were talking and immediately noticed how loud the room was; a side effect of the completely open room design. In addition to the room being too loud I didn't think the music playing fit the theme of the restaurant very well, but at least it wasn't very noticeable. There was a distinctive drum and bass song that I liked though. I heard the song again about 40 minutes later. I ended up hearing the song a total of about four times while we were there! They should change the damn cd every once in a while.
While we sat there the blue walls began shifting color and turned green. After the walls turned green I asked Lynn what effect she thought the architect was going for, and she said something about being underwater. That was the impression I got too. There were long, wavy, oblong sculptures coming out of the wall that gave the impression of turbulent water, and the ceiling definitely looked like one long rolling wave. At the end of the night, as we stood at the entrance waiting for Lynn's dad to pick us up, I noticed the sound of waves crashing. I guess the architect was successful in giving the feeling of being underwater, but where do yellow frosted glass tables fit into that?
As the night went on the walls changed color about every 15 minutes from blue, to green, to red, to purple, but after the food arrived we didn't really notice it. My favorite color was green because it reminded me of the color of the Caribbean Sea when I stayed in Placencia for a couple of days. Lynn preferred the blue (since it's her favorite color), and she totally didn't like the red.
Our carafe of Morimoto ginjo sake arrived, and it was in a bamboo stem with little cups also made out of bamboo stems. It was a pretty elegant presentation, and the sake actually tasted good too. It as a little dry, had a bit of sweetness, and a good flavor. We both enjoyed it.
Our sushi, sashimi, and toro tartare all arrived at once. The unagi and otoro were mine and the hamachi was Lynn's. The unagi was delicious, but nothing significantly better than what I get in Phoenix. The otoro consisted of mostly very light pink (almost white) fat with small (dime size) bits of tuna meat embedded in it. It was my first time eating otoro and I had a hard time deciding what it tasted like. It was almost tasteless at first, with a long, mild tuna finish. It was alright. Lynn said the hamachi tasted fresher than the hamachi in Phoenix so score one for Morimoto. The toro tartare was interesting. It was minced toro and fried scallions topped with olestra caviar and served in a tasty soy based sauce with fresh grated wasabi on the side. The tuna with the sauce had a different flavor than the straight otoro; it was sort of potato-ish with a tuna finish. The caviar added a fishy, briny start that I could've lived without. The fried scallions added a little sharpness to the flavor and a nice texture; they were a great addition. The wasabi was very necessary to give it all a little spark, but getting the proportions right was a little difficult. My perfect version of the tartare would be the toro and wasabi mixed together, topped with fried scallions, and served in that sauce. It was still a nice experience the way it was, but I don't think it was $26 nice.
Next the hot appetizers came out; the dote nabe and Morimoto tempura with gorgonzola sauce. I hated the tempura AND the sauce. The tempura was bad; it wasn't that light or crisp, and the pieces were too big. Tempura should be in proportion so you get the texture of the tempura and the flavor of the item much like chocolate truffles should be a proportion so that you can taste the filling and the chocolate. The sauce was horrible. I love gorgonzola and I wouldn't have known that's what it was unless it said so on the menu. Naturally Lynn thought the tempura and the sauce were both really good. The dote nabe was a real surprise. The sauce had an earthy, almost chocolate flavor to it that was so tasty that it even made poached oysters taste half-way decent. (The proof is Lynn actually ate three oysters, and she really hates oysters.) Besides the oysters there were a couple of pieces of bacon, tofu, and leek(?). I actually liked the tofu better than the oysters, but I didn't have any complaints about the dish. The sauce was so good I almost wanted to eat it straight!
Next our chicken ramen and house green salad were brought out. The soup was great. The thin broth had a wonderful roasted flavor that me and Lynn both loved. I didn't rally care for the actual chicken though; it just didn't seem to taste right in the soup for me. Lynn said she really liked the chicken and ramen noodles, but she wasn't too fond of the massive pile of green onions. I thought the green onions and ramen were both quite good, although I ended up eating around the green onions too. The green salad was mixed greens tossed with a vinaigrette and topped with fried scallions and shaved dried bonito. It was great! The vinaigrette was very tangy, and you can't go wrong with fried scallions. It was my first time tasting bonito (I've had it on okonomiyaki before, but I couldn't taste it with everything else that was on it), and I liked it; it had a sort of bacon flavor. Lynn thought the bonito tasted weird, which was fine since it just meant more for me. The mixed greens were really tasty too; not bitter like the mixed greens at City Tavern.
A waiter and our waitress cleared our plates and silverware, and brought us new plates, silverware, and chopsticks. I looked at the chopsticks and mentioned to Lynn that we wouldn't be needing them unless the steak came chopped. A few minutes later a waiter came out with our pan fried steak (medium rare) and told us that he would prepare it for us. He smeared fresh grated wasabi on top and carved it into pieces that could be easily handled with chopsticks. Who knew that would happen!? We each picked up a piece of the steak and dipped it in a bowl of sauce that was similar to the sauce that came with the toro tartare. It was amazing; one of the best steaks I've ever had (and that includes the steaks I make myself)! The steak itself was crusty from the pan frying, nicely seasoned, and quite tasty on it's own, but add to that the wasabi (which wasn't even hot on the steak), and the dipping sauce (which was so good that Lynn thought it had bonito in it and liked it anyway), and you can see how the steak was amazing.
After all that food I didn't really feel up for dessert, but Lynn wanted one so we naturally ordered two. Lynn choose the coconut wavewhich oddly enough didn't actually have any coconut in itand I ordered the seasonal sorbets (which were litchi, pink guava, and black raspberry). The pink guava was nice, the litchi was too sweet for me (Lynn very accurately remarked that it tasted like rose water), and the black raspberry was just wrong. None of it was worthwhile. I really need to stop ordering sorbets; the only good ones I've had are the sorbettis at Italian restaurants. Lynn's coconut wave was much better. It had chocolate mousse on a hazelnut praline and a puff pastry cup filled with key lime pie filling and cubed kiwi and some other fruit topped with a bit of wasabi. I broke off a piece of the praline and scooped up some of the chocolate mousse. It was delicious; crunchy and smooth, nutty and chocolatey it was very well balanced. I then broke off a piece of the pastry cup and collected some of the key lime filling. It was so good! The filling was the way key lime should be; very tangy and just a little sweet. Lynn got some of the filling with wasabi, and she really liked it. I had to try it too. The key lime-wasabi combination was great! The wasabi gave the dessert a quick kick, then it was gone. Who would have guessed?
In the end Lynn really loved everything (including seeing Morimoto walking around and making the "V for victory" sign when he took pictures with people) and said that if we lived in Philly we'd be regulars there. Even though I enjoyed our meal and I'd love to go back and try the other soups, desserts, and those drunken shrimp, I told Lynn that I'd be a regular at City Tavern (which I totally loved). One thing did make me happy though... I didn't order the $80 per person omakase meal (which I believe is a five or six course meal), and I think we had a better experience picking out our own food than if we let someone else do it. Even better, it was cheaper than the omakase, and included sake. I'm sure me and Lynn will be back at Morimoto the next time we're in Philly, but hopefully the menu will have changed by then. The place has been open for over a year and the menu still hasn't changed; it's unusual for a place that charges that much.
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