Things have been going rather well for me with regard to client work. I recently acquired a client who put me on a long-term assignment developing a booking tool for a large leisure services company. The only real down-side to this gig is the travel. They tend to send me to places I am not meant to be. This time, they sent me to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but when I arrived at the hotel at 8:45pm, it suddenly dawned on me that Philadelphia was the home of Morimoto, the ultra-modern Japanese-American fusion restaurant created by “Iron Chef” Masaharu Morimoto. I asked the concierge if I could get a reservation and a car to get me there and back. I arrived at the restaurant at 9:25 for a 9:30 reservation. The following is a detailed account of my experience.
Morimoto has two styles of dining. The first is your standard a la carte menu, and the second is their famous “Omakase”. Omakase, roughly translated from the Japanese as “Your Choice”, allows the chef to decide what will be presented to you. Morimoto has three levels of Omakase: $80, $100, and $120. They also have an optional beverage Omakase. For $60, each course will be paired with a beverage complimenting the dish. I was informed by Wendi, my waitress, that the three tiers of Omakase were based on ingredients, not number of courses. With this information, I decided to go for the $120 option. I decided that I wasn’t going to come back to Philadelphia anytime soon, so I may as well make the most of it. I did not choose the beverage Omakase, as I wanted to have a clear mind and tongue for each dish. I was not disappointed.
The first course that was presented to me was the O-toro (fatty tuna) tartare. It was served in a small bowl the size of a large tea cup. The tartare was a lone island, surrounded by a bath of dashi and soy and topped with a healthy dollop of osetra caviar. Outside the bowl was s small mound of fresh wasabi and a japanese berry similar in shape to a red raspberry but much more mild in flavor, to be eaten as a palate cleanser. If you’ve never had fresh wasabi before, you don’t know what you are missing. It’s a much brighter, cleaner version of the powdered play-dough ball that you usually get in most sushi restaurants. I was instructed to eat this dish by taking a small amount of the wasabi onto the spoon, along with a bit of the tartare, caviar and liquid, and enjoy the flavors simultaneously. In short, it was brilliant, although difficult to eat. The small bowl and small spoon made it difficult to get all the items on the spoon at once, but I managed.
The next course was three kumamoto oysters, each in their own unique brine. They were served on ice, along with an edible orchid. The brines were tasty, although I found them too similar to each other to appreciate each individually. I should also point out that I was getting over a rather ugly cold at the time. The orchid tasted much like a bean sprout, clean and fresh.
The third course was what I considered to be the most impressive dish during the entire experience. Live scallop carpaccio resting on a lake of mirin, dashi and soy. Hot oil made of extra virgin olive and sesame was drizzled onto the scallop, partially cooking it. Consider this similar to the “New-Style Sashimi” that Morimoto is known for.
The final appetizer was a bit of sock-eye salmon (with skin) that seemed to be mildly cured (dried, but not smoked), along with micro-greens on a yuzu-vinaigrette. The piece of salmon was thick, giving a contrast between the creamy inside and the chewy outside. Making sure to get a bit of the greens, vinaigrette, salmon and skin all at once was the best plan of attack. The pepperiness of the micro-greens, coupled with the acidity of the vinaigrette and savory quality of the salmon skin was fantastic.
Before the first hot course, I was given an intermezzo consisting of a single small scoop of passionfruit and star-anis sorbet, garnished with a single micro-green. Sorbet is all about controlling the ice crystals. The smaller the crystals, the better the sorbet. The crystals in this sorbet were so small it was almost gel-like in consistency.
My first hot course was their “lobster epice”. It consisted of half a broiled lobster rubbed with a combination of spices including chili powder, cumin, garlic, and others bringing the spice count to a total of eight. Along with the lobster, there were a few vegetables, also rubbed with the spice mixture. As a side, there was a small cup of star-anis infused crème fraîche that you could dip into, should the heat of the spice mixture become too much to bear. The lobster was perfect and tender, but the accompanying vegetables seemed to be a bit of an afterthought. The broccoli held up to the treatment, as did the asparagus, but the miniature carrots were limp and lifeless.
The final hot course was fast-grilled Kobe beef with scallion and what seemed to be a parsnip. On top of the beef was a bit of seared fois gras that was out of this world. Like most foodies, I’ve heard all about the well massaged, sake-swilling Kobe cows of leisure, but not being a big beef eater, I really didn’t understand the hype. Now I am a convert. The beef was unlike anything I have experienced before. It had the silky, creamy texture of the fois gras with a taste that matches Plato’s ideal.
The sushi course was the final non-dessert course. I asked Wendi about the sushi, and she mentioned that Morimoto both brews their own soy dipping sauce, and polishes their own rice. These two components, along with the fresh wasabi, served to elevate the sushi course to an almost transcendent level. The course itself was simple, as traditional nigiri-style sushi should be. Seven pieces of sushi were presented on a simple wooden plank. Of all of them, the anago (sea eel) was by far the best. According to Wendi, the eel is delivered to Morimoto alive, killed quickly, put in a bath of sake, and plated moments before delivered to the table. This sushi was on a completely different level from anything I’ve had before.
The final course was their famed “Chocolate Soup”. Served in a small glass cup topped with spun sugar to be cracked like the shell of a crème brûlée , this hot lighter-than-mousse concoction was stunning. Upon tasting, the semi-sweet chocolate sublimates in the mouth, not unlike cotton candy, leaving your mouth infused with an intense chocolate flavor. Along with the chocolate soup, the side of the plate contained a small scoop of mango sorbet with blood-orange foam and coconut tapioca sauce. I am not a fan of coconut, nor tapioca, but when mated with the foam and sorbet, it worked quite well.
Eight courses. Two and a half hours.
Best. Meal. Ever.
Earlier: BBEdit Sucks Less
Later: Let’s Get Small