Monday, August 30, 2010

Morimoto Napa Restaurant

I remember watching Iron Chef Japan as a kid. It was our Sunday ritual, after dinner, my sister, brother, mom and I (dad was at work) would crowd around the TV in anticipation. We would try to guess what each chef was cooking (no subtitles) and who would win. In our eyes, Morimoto was the rebel with the ponytail and cool techniques. My favorite was Iron Chef Chinese because he uses the cleaver no matter how big or small the job.

Of course, Chef Morimoto is synonymous with Iron Chef, especially since he is one of the original from Iron Chef Japan. What really hooked me into driving to Napa for dinner was the sea urchin carbonara. The restaurant is located in Downtown Napa at the very end where it over looks the river and the big Ferries Wheel (county fair). The front of the house is the 'market' with a beautiful mural of a fish, a sushi bar and the hostess desk.

Napa Morimoto

The hallway houses the open kitchen (Chef Morimoto was expediting that night) which leads to the main dining room with a bar, we selected to sit outdoors since it was a warm summer evening. The restaurant is very new, silverware is shiny, servers and runners who are still getting the 'hang of things.'

To preface - We had a fantastic meal, with new flavor combinations and service. Our servers were friendly, sweet and attentive. As we left the restaurant we were full, satisfied, and elated. However, our exchange with Chef Morimoto made us feel like we were punched in the pit of our stomach...

We began with the [$25] Toro tartare, sung as one of Morimoto's signature dishes. The presentation was exquisite with the height, color, and size. The condiments included nori paste, wasabi, sour cream, chives, avocado puree, rice crispies and ponzu. The spatula was used to scrape the toro and then the condiments for a tailored bite. We really enjoyed the nori paste with the finely chopped fatty tuna. There was a plum to cleanse the palate after the appetizer, a delightful touch.

Napa Morimoto - toro tartare
Napa Morimoto - toro tartare

Our server toted the Morimoto sushi [$25] was also a signature - seared toro, salmon, eel, tuna, hamachi with five sauces. The thick slices of fish are layered together creating a great, albeit large bite. The fish were so fresh and naturally sweet I did not use much of the sauce. My favorite was the roasted red pepper. There was a fresh mountain plum to cleanse the palate after. I have a bag of candied mountain plum at home but never had it fresh, it emitted a lot of juice.

Napa Morimoto - Mormimoto sushi

We noted to our server the [$19] oyster foie gras is our death row dish - market oyster, foie gras, uni, teriyaki sauce. Our server said it was a mix of kumamoto and miyagi oyster which is steamed, with a seared piece of foie gras and the cold uni. The dish encompassed everything I dearly love.

Napa Morimoto - oyster, uni, foie gras, teriyaki

The [$18] beef tartare was also another creative and fun dish. At this point, we were discussing how each dish was so beautifully presented, complimenting flavors and how it felt like a fine dining tasting menu. The beef tartare was Australian wagyu and it was seared on one side served with lotus chips. The 'fun' part of the dish was the asparagus flan with the egg yolk. The runner instructed us to cut it in half and the yolk will "swish everywhere." I enjoyed the new spin on the beef tartare.

Napa Morimoto - beef tartareNapa Morimoto - asparagus flanNapa Morimoto - asparagus flanNapa Morimoto - asparagus flan

The [$16] foie gras chawan mushi is a custard with sliced shabu shabu duck. I wanted to try this dish because I pine for the foie gras custard from Raku in Las Vegas. The foie gras in the custard is subltle and delicate. The dish didn't have the pizazz I was looking for.

Napa Morimoto - foie gras custard

During the introduction our server said most of the items on the menu are available at other Morimoto's restaurant. However, he takes advantages of the seasonal local produce and creates new dishes for the menu. The [$16] fig tempura is an example; the mission figs are fried and served with foie gras peanut butter sauce and a pomegranate reduction. The peanut butter sauce really pulls it together, the sweetness of the fig works so well with the nutty sauce and slightly tart pomegranate. I never thought of fig tempura and will try to recreate this dish at home.

Napa Morimoto - fig tempura with peanut butter foie gras

The last dish of the night and highly anticipated with the [$28] sea urchin carbonara. The dish used a ramen size udon noodle, the noodle was too soft to hold up the thickness of the sauce. The noodles became mush against decadent sauce, there was no contrast with sauce and noodle. The smoked bacon took away from the fragrant uni as it was over powering. It was nice to have large English peas for some freshness, I will also note the uni piece on top was the best I ever had.

Napa Morimoto - sea urchin carbonara

While dining, we asked with our server if Morimoto minded if we asked for an autograph and picture. She replied enthusiastically "He's totally cool and he has a sharpie so he's ready to go!" We asked if we could have a menu or something for him to sign. She gave us a dessert menu because she had a few extra. As we left our table happy, almost delusional happy from dinner we approached Morimoto and politely asked him to sign the menu and a photo. (We used all the words, 'Excuse me, please, sir')

Napa Morimoto - sea urchin carbonara

Morimoto grabbed our menu and rudely ask "Where did you get this???" We replied, "Our server gave it to us." Then he said, "Which one???" and was shaking his head and "tsk, tsk" the whole time he signed the menu. We didn't reply since we didn't want to get our server in trouble. He loudly exclaimed, "no flash" as I did not even intend to use flash and pointed where we had to stand. I understand we should not be in the way of the kitchen.

Napa MorimotoI understand if Morimoto was busy or he did not want to give away the menu, it is a cost to the restaurant. However, we asked a few times if it was okay and if other patrons have requested an autograph and photo. I think a courtesy, "No, thank you I'm busy right now" would have been a more polite way to treat a patron. I can understand Morimoto's irritation of being bothered by patrons all day long or we caught him on the wrong day. However, I do not like the way he implied that we stole the menu and treated us like we were children taking what is not ours.

Our server witnessed the whole exchange and gave us a "I'm sorry" shrug and smile. As we were eating dinner, we discussed about coming back a few more times to try other dishes on the menu and the sushi selection since it is flown in everyday. However, after the exchange with Morimoto felt like a punch in the stomach, we could not swallow 'diss' to return.

Morimoto Napa
610 Main St
Napa, CA 94559
(707) 252-1600
Morimoto Napa on Urbanspoon

7 comments:

The Duo Dishes said...

What a meal. What an experience. It's great how you were able to tie a memory into this one. The presentation looks amazing.

Lolia S said...

You take amazing photos! Sorry Morimoto wasn't so nice. He seems nice on TV :)

Bonnibella said...

Lolia- maybe I caught him at a bad moment. Thanks for the photo comment!

Forager said...

The presentation is amazing! Shame the flavours didn't live up to the presentation in every case though. The boy went to Morimoto's other restaurant in NY and said it was pretty special. Sorry he was rude - so unusual for the Japanese sa they're so polite! Maybe he's been watching too much Hell's Kitchen.

Beef No Guy said...

What a nice writeup, great photos! Hope to try this place someday.

Steve said...

Love those photos, and a great review as well!

foodhoe said...

I'm so tempted to drive over from work one night, it's really not so far for me... but what a bummer Chef Morimoto acted so rudely! I'll go for the food though, your photos are gorgeous and descriptions make it all sound so good.

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