Kelly the Culinarian: Food Find: Morimoto in Philadelphia

Friday, November 30, 2007

Food Find: Morimoto in Philadelphia

After lunch at the White House, I really don't know where else to go. I feel like I may have reached a culinary climax. Also, I have no Internet at home yet and I will be spending the weekend in Virginia. In the meantime, I have acquired a wonderful review from my classmate Sarah Baicker, who had the pleasure of dining at Morimoto in Philadelphia. Yeah, it's named after that Morimoto on the Food Network. It's his flagship Japanese restaurant, so enjoy this little delight from Sarah.

Say what you will about Philadelphia. Sure, the City of Brotherly Love might be a little dirty, and yeah, we might have an incompetent mayor and, uh, a “small homicide problem.” But one thing Philly does have is one hell of an array of restaurants.

We might not be able to get a team to a championship, but we know how to eat and we know how to appreciate good food. And our foodie king is restaurateur Stephen Starr.

Starr is best-known for his glitzy Thai-fusion restaurant Buddakan, which also has a New York location. But he’s also behind a kitschy Elvis-themed Mexican restaurant (El-Vez), an upscale steakhouse (Barclay Prime) and Morimoto, a contemporary Japanese and sushi house that bears a name that ought to be familiar to some of you. Yes, Chef Masaharu Morimoto is the Morimoto of TV’s cult-classic cooking show, Iron Chef.

I’ve wanted to eat at Morimoto since learning to appreciate sushi some years ago, but, alas, Morimoto is impossible to afford on my non-existent salary. In fact, eating at Morimoto is out of the range of most salaries. This is the kind of place with a name followed by an obscene amount of dollar signs on CitySearch and MenuPages. Sigh.

But, being blessed with a well-to-do—and generous—food-loving friend, I got to experience Morimoto while home for Thanksgiving break. And…wow. I can only hope that one day I make enough money to get to eat like that again.

It’s hard not to feel cool walking into Morimoto. The restaurant is bright, very long and narrow—all just one big room with no divisions—and with a kitchen in pain view situated in the back. There’s a bar and lounge upstairs, where we waited and had a drink while our table was prepared. Everyone is well-dressed, and I will admit that I half-expected a celebrity could walk in at any minute. The wait staff is extremely attentive and helpful from the moment you walk in. Most all tables are booths, and all the booths are an icy-looking lighted plastic that fades gradually from color to color—purple, to red, to blue, and so on. Starr has a knack for going just a little over-the-top in presentation, but I promise it’s not as offensive as it sounds.

I let my friend do all the ordering. He’s a frequent diner at Morimoto, and quite simply, I was overwhelmed. The menu contains a lot of items I’d never heard of, much less tried. And so, after we each had a drink (I had a glass of Cabernet) he went to town, ordering what was certainly more than enough food to last the two of us a good three or four days.

First up was a warm whitefish carpaccio, a plate of thinly sliced pieces of fish drizzled with warm oil and spices. It was very light and, even with my unsophisticated palate, I could appreciated the subtle flavors. The dish was presented like a piece of art (as was everything that was whisked past our table) and was definitely a great introduction to the meal.

Then came a yellowtail tartar and a pile of rock shrimp tempura. The tempura was delightful, very slightly crispy, and it somehow managed to not feel heavy despite being fried. It was sweet with a little kick at the end, and the portion was generous—we were munching on the shrimp throughout the rest of the meal. The tartar was my first tartar ever, as well as my first introduction to caviar. I’ll admit it reminded me a little bit of what canned cat food looks like as far as its size and shape, but I can still imagine its taste. And the taste was more than enough to knock those cat food images from my mind at the time.

But the star of the night was the black cod miso, a warm fillet of black cod lightly drizzled with a sweet miso-based sauce that had hints of caramel. Before the dish arrived, my friend told me to expect something that tasted like lobster, but if lobster was a thousand-times tastier and more tender. And yeah, that about sums it up.

Too bad, he added, that black cod is on the verge of extinction. Oops.

While we were still working on the cod, our sushi arrived. We ordered a pair of pieces of variety of sashimi, including tuna, salmon and unagi (eel). At this point in the meal, I must admit, I was well past full. I probably didn’t enjoy the sushi as much as I should have, but I can say this: I took out a salmon roll from the local Whole Foods last night and I think Morimoto has forever ruined my chances of appreciating cheap, take-out sushi.

Before we left, our waiter (who, I should add, was absolutely adorable and totally down-to-earth) brought us each a glass of sparkling white wine with a scoop of homemade raspberry sorbet dropped inside. These perfect endings to our meal were gifts from the chef, Mr. Morimoto himself.

Did I say I like my friends?


sage said...

Murder is always a small problem till you're a victim... I spent a week once in Philly researching in historical societies there--I stayed in a B&B in one of those row houses downtown, eating out on that funky street (I forget it's name), but it was great. Great review

DC Metro said...

Its nice to hear what the flagship of Morimotos empire is like.

He briefly opened up a branch of his restaurant in the new Tysons Corner expansion (a lesser more mass market version) but it went out of business in only 6 months.

James from DC Metrocentric

KC said...

I want an uber-rich friend like that! Or maybe I don't else I won't be able to appreciate my food thereafter...

That's a great review, I love the detailed imagery.