When my family was in New York last week, we dined at Morimoto NYC. Everyone had the Omakase Dinner (Chef’s tasting menu). Here’s what we had and my comments:
Course #1: Toro (Tuna Belly) Tartare
The toro was delightfully fresh and rich tasting. I loved the little rice cracker balls. They added a nice crunchy textural contrast, and wish there was more of them.
Course #2: Kampachi Sashimi with Shiitake
The flavor profile of this dish tasted a bit Chinese to me, like the Cantonese steamed fish finished with hot oil on the top. The fish was great, but the sauce and mushrooms were a bit overpowering for the delicate fish. By the way, “Shiitake mushroom” is redundant because “take” means “mushroom” in Japanese.
Course #3: Microgreen salad, salmon, cranberry beans, asparagus, yogurt mousse and matcha (green tea) dressing
This dish is a winner. It’s visually interesting, with wonderful color contrasts and effective positive use of negative space (small modular elements on an enormous plate). It also perfectly captures the essence of the season and of this time of year – very important in Japanese traditional cuisine.
Course #4: Kumamoto oysters steamed with foie gras, uni (sea urchin), and teriyaki glaze
Oysters, foie gras, and sea urchin together in one dish is like trying way too hard to be luxury and ending up tacky and nouveau riche. In any case, the teriyaki glaze pretty much covered up the taste of the ingredients anyway. Although presenting the oysters on rock salt mixed with whole spices (cardamom, cloves, peppercorns) was innovative and added to the olfactory interest, this dish just seems like a waste of potentially fabulous ingredients.
Course #5: Sushi: Chuu-Toro, Tai, Mirugai, Kohada, Amaebi
Fresh ingredients well executed. You can’t mess with tradition here. This one gets an “A”. “A+”s don’t come easy around here 😉
Course #6: Intermezzo – “Matcha” (Powdered green tea used in tea ceremony) and Coconut Macaroon
This course sounds great conceptually, but failed in execution and ended up gimmicky. The waiters came around with bamboo whisks and performed a mini tea ceremony by whisking the the powdered green tea together with hot water. The green tea was not nearly strong enough to stand up to the super-sweet lingering taste of the coconutty macaroons. The macaroons at Bouley Bakery are much better. The green tea used in a real tea ceremony is supposed to be very thick and bitter to contrast with the sweet. No need to skimp on matcha powder when people are paying over a hundred bucks for an omakase dinner!
Course #7: Garam Masala Encrusted Lobster with Lemon Foam
Finally, the Iron Chef hits a home run! I wanted to lick and suck every crevice of that lobster carcass clean. Clearly pushing the boundaries of “Japanese cuisine” here, but very New York with the interethnic borrowing of the garam masala to produce something new. In any case, it works and that’s why he’s still an Iron Chef.
Course #8: Wagyu with Japanese Sweet Potatoes
Nice, but underwhelming. To be fair, I have always been underwhelmed by Kobe beef/wagyu. So what if the cows get massages and get to drink beer? I would rather not pay the premium for pampered cattle and drink the beer and get the massages myself.
Course #9: Dessert – Red Bean (Azuki) Bean Cake with Apricot Sorbet
The cake was a bit dry, but it provided a great contrast to the sorbet, which tasted lively and fresh. A pleasant finish to a roller-coaster of a meal. Restrained enough as to not make you forget the previous 8 courses.