If you're not interested in food, skip this entry. OK, our dinner at Morimoto. Was totally fabulous! The directions on the website were easy to follow, although it was raining so hard that night that poor Georg still had a tough time of the drive. I had wanted to get a photo of the front entrance but again, heavy rain, so I had to skip it.
We had allowed a lot of extra time in case we had problems with the directions, and we ended up getting there about 20 minutes early. It wasn't that crowded, maybe because of the holiday weekend, so they seated us right away. In retrospect maybe we should have gone up to the lounge just to see it, but we didn't think of that at the time.
The interior was not large but impressively designed. The side walls were concrete carved with this swirly pattern, and the ceiling was hardwood that curved against the wall. Way in the back was the sushi bar, where Chef Morimoto was working when we came in. The booths had plexiglass dividers between them, lit from inside, that changed color! We wondered if there was some kind of gas inside the plexiglass, because the color seemed to start out at the bottom, where the lights were, and then gradually work its way up to the top. As if maybe there was something in there absorbing the colored light.
Morimoto was working the sushi bar when we got there, then after about a half an hour he walked around and talked to a few tables, then he disappeared downstairs, to the office I guess. I didn't have the nerve to introduce myself to him, but I did snap a photo while he was chatting up a table near us. Unfortunately the photo is really blurry because the restaurant was so dim. I can say that his ponytail has gotten really long and he now has a goatee.
My sister used to date the sous-chef there, so we asked if Cliff was working that night. Only to find out that he had just left! He's moving to California and his last day was the Sunday before. What a bummer to have missed him by only five days. I liked Cliff, was looking forward to saying hello to him and maybe getting his recommendation on what to order.
Without the inside scoop from Cliff, we decided to go with omakase, the chef's choice tasting menu. I was a little concerned about getting something I wouldn't like, but the waitress said it was fine to request no raw shellfish. So that's what we did.
I should say that the service was excellent. Very attentive without being overbearing. We had one waitress who was basically in charge of our table, but the dishes were served by a number of different people. There were chopsticks on the table when we were seated, but they brought out additional silverware as necessary for each omakase dish (and took it away after each dish so we had clean silver every time). Also I was pleased that none of the staff looked askance at my snapping photos of every dish. I bet they're used to that, with a celebrity chef and all.
My only complaint was that the restaurant was so loud, it was sometimes hard to hear the descriptions of the dishes. (With omakase you have no idea what you're getting until it arrives, so we really wanted to hear the descriptions.) The noise, caused by that high wooden ceiling, I bet, also made it nearly impossible to hear the music. Which is too bad because it sounded like a nice downtempo mix. I swear I heard snatches of "Omid" by Theivery Corporation followed by something from Dzihan & Kamien's latest album. I wonder if someone will release a Morimoto CD, like every hip restaurant in all of Paris has done.
First course: toro. This was the only course where Georg and I got different dishes. Which set up false hopes that it would happen every time, and therefore we'd have twice as dishes to try. However, at other tables that ordered omakase I noticed that they were all getting the same dishes as well. In fact from a distance they looked like the same dishe we were getting. Which made me wonder if they have one omakase menu per night.
In any case, back to the toro. Toro is tuna belly, fattier and therefore more flavorful than maguro (leaner cuts of tuna). I had seared toro and Georg had toro tartare. In both dishes the toro was sort of ground into a paste, which lost the texture of the fish but made it light and very lush. Georg's toro tartare was in a bowl of soy-based sauce with a bit of caviar on top. On the side was a fruit that tasted sort of like a raspberry, and a dab of fresh wasabi. Which, wow. I guess all I'd ever had before was reconstituted, because this had a totally different texture and a different flavor as well. More flavor, I should say, rather than just heat. I even ate a dab of it by itself, which I would never do with the regular stuff.
My seared toro was only heated very lightly, so still pretty raw. Which suited me fine; it would have been a waste of that silky texture to cook it all the way through. It was topped with a basil sauce, caviar, red onions, sliced tomatoes, and sliced jalapenos. Which I did not eat, but the fish was still nicely hot from having had the jalapenos on it.
Second course: chilean sea bass. This was the only food photo that really disappointed me; it was the only one that despite my efforts ended up looking shiny and glisteny and gross. We wondered if maybe it was because the fish had an oily sauce that reflected too much light. Whatever the reason, the bass looked much more appetizing in this photo than in real life. It was seared, so again, mostly raw, with a gingery oil-based sauce.
Third course: sashimi plate. This was a sizeable chunk of red snapper, and two strips of salmon rolled around each other in a flower shape. Unfortunately you can't see the salmon because it was hidden under an extremely thin slice of Japanese turnip. The fish was accompanied by some kind of small peppery green, a few bonito (dried fish) shavings, and a sesame oil sauce. My only complaint about this dish was the piece of snapper was big enough to be a bit unmanageable. In contrast, the thin slices of salmon were just perfect. But at least they had provided us with a knife.
Palate cleanser: wasabi sorbet. This really didn't taste much like wasabi to me; it just had a nice, light sharpness. Honestly, if I'd had to guess I would have said it was lemon. But if you really tried to taste the wasabi, you could tell it was there. Served with a "wasabi beignet," which was a tiny little pastry in which the delicate sharp flavor was even less distinct. Probably because the other ingredients were stronger than in the sorbet.
Fourth course: halibut. First cooked dish. The halibut was steamed, topped with black bean sauce and some kind of shredded green (scallion I think), and served on a banana leaf. The neat thing is that the banana leaf was folded up in a tent shape when it came to the table, and the waitress popped it open as she described the dish. I wish I could have gotten a photo of it folded up too.
Fifth course: kobe beef. Our only non-fish dish excepting dessert. It was served with teriyaki sauce, on top of "japanese yam potatoes," which are much less orange and less sweet than sweet potatoes. The texture was also firmer, more like a potato, but that may be from cooking technique. Teriyaki sauce isn't my favorite thing, probably from eating too many dishes where a thick, overly sweet and overly salty sauce is used to conceal inferior meat. Still, in this case the sauce was light and not so salty, and the beef was of course superlative. Rarer than what I normally like (I'm a bit of a philistine when it comes to beef, I can't eat rare and even medium-rare is sometimes iffy) but the slice was so thin that I could appreciate the flavor and juiciness without being grossed out by how rare it was.
Sixth course: sushi. From left to right: toro (fatty tuna), hamachi (yellowfin tuna), tai (red snapper), kohada (shad), and unagi (eel). Do I even need to say how good this was?
We had already had toro and tai in previous courses, but I didn't mind at all about the toro since it's hard to find in NC sushi restaurants. Also I didn't mind about the snapper because, while it would have been nice to try a different fish, we could have ended up with ika (squid) or tako (octopus) or some other thing I wouldn't have been comfortable eating. (I have tried them both, once, so I don't feel bad about never wanting to eat them again!) Maybe my "no raw shellfish" request translated to "only unchallenging raw dishes," I don't know.
Unagi is a favorite of Georg's but I'd never had it before. There's just something psychological about eating eel that bothered me, even knowing that it's cooked and has barbecue sauce so I would probably like it. Well, I decided that if there was ever a time to try unagi, this was it. And I must say, once I stopped thinking "oh my god I'm eating eel, eww," it was really really good. So tender it practically dissolved. Georg said that unagi is usually chewier than that, so I don't know if I'm going to start ordering it on a regular basis. But still, it was nice to eat it and enjoy it this time.
Seventh course: dessert. My sister had warned me that she didn't like the wasabi tiramisu, but we didn't get that, so no need to worry about whether we'd like it or not. Instead we got "Irish Coffee": a dish of sweet whipped cream with a thick coffee syrup at the bottom, and a big dab of strawberry sorbet on top. An odd, but fortuitous, combination. On the left of the plate is "wasabi candy." I couldn't taste wasabi at all, although Georg insisted that he could taste a hint of that sharpness. And on the right is "Japanese jelly candy," which had the texture of a lemon square and was not at all sweet. In fact, none of the dessert was sweet excepting the strawberry sorbet.
My mother mentioned learning from her Japanese ESL students that sweet desserts aren't popular in Japan among adults, and in fact most men won't eat sweets at all because it's considered unmasculine. She said that it's strange for them to come here and see men in restaurants happily eating a big slice of cake or ice cream sundae, because in their minds sweets are appropriate for children and women. That actually explains some comments I've heard on Iron Chef about desserts. For instance once the panel were served a dessert that sounded like it was more bitter than sweet, and one of the judges (a young male athlete) said something to the effect that he wasn't "mature" enough to enjoy it.
So that was the Morimoto experience. Really amazing. My only disappointment in the food was that we didn't get the "yosedofu," fresh tofu made at the table. I've heard that it's amazing. I guess we'll just have to go back and try it!