[Philadelphia] Morimoto

[ A+ ] /[ A- ]

Morimoto | www.morimotorestaurant.com
Address: 723 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Date visited: 2013.03

Total bill: Your firstborn
Verdict: It’s good if you can afford it but there are cheaper alternatives that are just as good
Will return: Definitely

The name says it all. Yes, this is Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s restaurant. The food is excellent but you are mainly dropping stacks on the Iron Chef hype. There are cheaper alternatives that are just as good. Worth it? If you wipe with Benjamins. 

Masaharu Morimoto gained the title of Iron Chef on the original Japanese cooking show in 1999 while working as head chef at the famed Nobu flagship in New York. Morimoto left Nobu in 2000 and opened his first restaurant in Philadelphia, simply called Morimoto, with co-owner and restaurateur Stephen Starr in 2001. The Iron Chef has since opened restaurants in New York, Napa, LA, Baton Rouge, Honolulu, New Delhi, and Mumbai. 
Stephen Starr owns an empire of restaurants mainly in Philadelphia and has expanded to New York, New Jersey, Florida, and DC. Morimoto New York, which opened after the Philadelphia location is also under the Starr Restaurant Organization. Good food, trendy decor, and dim lighting are guaranteed in any Stephen Starr restaurant. Don’t expect to walk in and get a table; make a reservation in advance through OpenTable and expect a call from the restaurant before your reservation.
There is an omakase (“chef’s choice”) multi-course tasting menu that comes in $80 or $120 tiers. My friend and I originally wanted to get one omakase set and supplement it with additional dishes from the regular menu but our server was unable to tell us what was mostly being served that day so that we could avoid duplicates. I already did my homework on Yelp and had a faint idea of the dishes that were in the omakase time and time again. For example, the first course is almost always hamachi tartare ($80 tier) or toro tartare ($120 tier). I mean I get the concept of an omakase but I really doubt such a large and impersonal establishment like Morimoto would change the courses drastically from one table to another so the fact that our server was unable (or unwilling) to tell us what she had been bringing to other tables on that day was irritating. My friend and I ended up ditching the omakase and sharing several dishes from the regular menu. If you are not down for sharing, then get the omakase.

Toro Tartare ($26) topped with caviar
This portion must be for Tinker Bell because it is tiny. This should be shared between two people max; hog it all for yourself if you can. There are fried shallots in the mixture, which give a crispy texture to contrast the minced tuna. I would have preferred less sauce in the bowl because the tartare on the bottom was super saturated. Overall, this was a great tartare and I highly recommend getting it to start.

You are supposed to dab a bit of wasabi on the tip of your spoon with every bite of tartare. I was surprised and impressed that they used fresh wasabi. If you are used to your nostrils burning after eating wasabi, you have never had real, fresh wasabi. Fresh wasabi is ground from the wasabi root (expensive) and does not sting whereas fake wasabi is made from horseradish powder (cheap) and stings like a mofo. For this reason, you can eat a lot of fresh wasabi without feeling like you just snorted a line of wasabi.

You can tell how fresh the wasabi is by both the taste and texture. If it breaks up or melts easily into the sauce, you are eating fresh wasabi. Fake wasabi looks like play-doh and you have to mix it forever in your soy sauce before it breaks up. Oooh yeah, let the realization that you have been eating horse radish powder your whole life sink in.

Morimoto Restaurant
Morimoto Restaurant

A berry known as yangmei 杨梅 is suggested to cleanse the palate after the tartare. This berry is native to Asia, mainly China. Chinese people eat this on the regular so I am not sure about it being a palate cleanser than just an exotic fruit to put on the plate. I have never liked yangmei.

Morimoto Restaurant

Tuna Pizza ($18) with spicy tuna carpaccio and anchovy aioli on a crispy tortilla
This was pretty standard. It is what it is. I would not get this again.

Morimoto Restaurant

Roasted Foie Gras ($26) with crispy rice, cranberries, and sorrel.
Foie gras (“fat liver”) is liver that comes from a duck or goose that has been specially fattened for this very purpose. As with all delicious things in life, it isn’t without controversy because the duck or goose is force fed.

Foie gras is fatty (no brainer), rich, soft, smooth, and wobbly at the same time. This description won’t really help until you try it yourself. The texture, not taste, is very similar to uni (sea urchin) and just melts in your mouth. Some people love it, some people hate it. I love it. This dish has a generous portion of foie gras and I highly recommend it.

Morimoto Restaurant

Morimoto Restaurant
Lobster Ceviche Salad ($22) with baby mizuna, avocado, orange, hazelnuts, and white soy-citrus vinaigrette. 
A ceviche is a cold dish that contains raw seafood marinated in citrus juice and additional seasoning. It provides a light and refreshing break in your meal. The lobster in this dish was served two ways: raw and poached. This was flavored well and I would get this again.
Morimoto Restaurant
Morimoto Restaurant
Raw lobster (back left) and poached lobster (front center)

Chef’s Sushi Combination ($40, $60, $85; $60 combination is shown below)
My face fell when I saw the cooked shrimp; that was the first sign. The sushi is just average. The rice was a bit hard and the flavor was off; the fish was bland. Keep in mind that Morimoto is primarily an Asian fusion restaurant, not a sushi specialty restaurant like Hatsuhana, Sushi Yasuda, and the likes. The sushi here is not for sushi snobs. I would stick with the non-sushi dishes.

Morimoto Restaurant

Duck Duck Duck ($33) three ways with madras roasted duck breast, mango, and lotus in a mandarin oolong reduction, and duck confit fried rice with duck egg. I was really pleased the roasted duck portion but not so much the fried rice portion of this dish.

I have eaten duck prepared similarly in the past that were mostly unremarkable but this roasted duck was quite good. The duck was tender and the lotus and mango were surprisingly fitting.

Morimoto Restaurant
The duck confit fried rice tasted good but it’s nothing that can’t be replicated in an Asian household. As for the egg on top, the idea is to break the still-raw yolk and mix it into the fried rice. They overcooked the egg slightly so it wasn’t runny anymore. There were raisins in this, which is common in Thai style pineapple fried rice. I hate raisins as much as I hate cherries so this part didn’t fly with me.
Morimoto Restaurant
After dinner, I successfully coerced my eating partner into getting dessert as always. We shared a Matcha Tres Leches and Chocolate Pot de Creme, which were both perfect. I recommend both but if I had to choose only one, I would go with the Chocolate Pot de Creme.
Morimoto Restaurant
Chocolate Pot de Creme (top) and Matcha Tres Leches (bottom)
Matcha Tres Leches ($10) with green tea castella, burnt honey ice cream, and sweet red bean paste.
You can really taste the condensed milk in this and it is delicious. The piece on top is comparable to a thin wafer cookie.
Morimoto Restaurant
Morimoto Restaurant
Chocolate Pot de Creme ($10) 
This is a chocolate custard topped with lightly whipped cream and caramelized banana (basically a bowl of chocolate). The chocolate underneath was heavenly. There is a small brownie and some sort of cinnamon flavored thing on the side but it wasn’t good so just ignore it.
Morimoto Restaurant