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Review of Morimoto Waikiki

SouthernGent | Jan 24, 201106:30 AM

Ambiance: Like his NYC outpost, this is a stylish space, in a modern style. Lots of Lucite cases and very little fabric. It is lovely to look at, but there are a few downsides of the design aesthetic. The tables are close together and there are very few sound absorbing surfaces, so the noise level inside is quite high. Even just walking through the space, the din was a bit much. There is also seating available outside, which we took advantage of. When the weather is suitable, I would suggest that option. There are fewer tables and it is a quieter, though less stylish option.

Service: This appears to the Achille's Heel of Morimoto, particularly as concerns the pacing of the dishes. The table next to us had the tasting menu and at one point they had two courses on the table at once and at another they were noticeably annoyed while they waited with no next course in sight. Timing a tasting menu is a tricky thing for many restaurants and it appeared to be more than they could handle here. Another small quibble was that the two top we were seated at had a side with beautiful views and a side that had little or no view. It is pretty much standard to seat the woman with the preferred view and the man with the poor view because he is compensated by the sight of his dining companion (yes, my wife reads these posts). However, our hostess slid out the chair on the non-view side for my wife, leaving her with the option of taking the bad view or walking around the chair that was offered and seating herself. I notice that the other hostess got it right and sat other couples the "right" way. Despite that minor observation, our experience was good service wise. It was a bit more informal than you might expect, but suited to the resort destination I think. Our waiter was very familiar with the menu and able to make recommendations and provide details on every dish we asked about. As different dishes were presented the servers all explained each dish, which was helpful as the sake took effect. We just ordered six apps and asked the server to pace them however he thought best and we ended up with three "courses" of two apps each, which was perfect.

Food: We were still a bit jet lagged, so we decided to treat Morimoto's as if it were a tapas restaurant and just went with six appetizers, so this isn't a complete review of their menu. We started with the tuna tartare which had an arty presentation but was not particularly stunning. The tuna was smeared across a bamboo board and there were six garnishes to create your own flavor combination. It was just a bit too precious for me, although it was perfectly tasty. Rice crackers, wasabi and onion make an excellent flavor combo with the ahi. Similar in the high style version of a sushi house standard was the morimoto smoked sashimi -- four fish cut and layered to form cubes, with five pipettes of sauce so that you could try every possible combination. I disassembled the cubes and tried most every fish with every different sauce, but one could also have ate them whole, I suppose. The superstar of the cold apps was the lamb carpaccio. Brilliantly flavored with a surprisingly subtle ginger/garlic/scallion paste on top, I could have licked the plate. It had an herb-infused oil on the side and was very nearly perfect. We also had the foie gras oysters, which were topped with uni, foie and teriyaki sauce. The oysters were huge and the extra topping made them a challenging size to eat in one bite, but I managed. Not a subtle dish, but very tasty. I might have went for just a bit less of the sweet teriyaki, but it was still very nice. They serve three oysters and I was quite pleased that my wife passed on a second! The outright star of the menu was beyond a doubt the chowanmushi. I didn't have high expectations for this dish, but it just stunned me. The custard was absolutely perfect, light and fluffy. There was a thick layer of dashi and soya on top and just for good measure a nice chewy bit of duck and foie gras. I loved this dish. Finally, we had the tableside yose dofu, which is tofu made at your table. They started with soy milk, added salt water and nigari and closed up the hot clay pot with a warning not to peek at it or we'd ruin everything. A few minutes later he returned and viola! Fresh creamy tofu. Unfortunately, the sauces on the side were not as impressive as the magic trick. The worst was a kimchi sauce that was a miss. It was very watered down, which resulted in a sauce that didn't have the power of kimchi because it was so watered down, nor did work as a background flavor because it didn't balance at all. Diners at the next table over raved about the duck, duck, duck entree, but we surrendered to the sake and jet lag and called it a night.

Value: We paid $220 for six apps, two sake tasting flights, tip and tax.

Conclusion: I'm still slotting this behind my all-time Honolulu fave (Alan Wong) but it is a worthy addition to the scene here. They could do with a bit more polish on the service side, but its still relatively new so they will probably get that worked out. The food was quite good and based on our experiences at the New York Morimotos I suspect the tasting menu would be the best pick here, although we left full and happy with our "every place does tapas" approach.

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