Morimoto Napa Review
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Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto (I wonder if he grits his teeth when introduced this way or if he flinches everytime someone yells out "kyo no tema...kore des!") chose downtown Napa as the curious choice for his West Coast presence. I was curious how he was going to bring a Japanese core into Wine Country, but he really pulls it off with what's going to be the sexiest restaurant in Napa Valley (well, until the next sexy thing comes by.)
Morimoto Napa food
We went with the omakase which is like a Japanese tasting menu. Let's see what Morimoto has in store for us.
The first dish below was a terrific starter: a thin slab of toro on ice with different flavorings and toppings underneath and a tasty dipping broth. You use the metal spatula to mix and match your flavorings. To be honest, I don't remember all of the Japanese ingredients except wasabe, something sea weed based, and some crunchy puffed rice. It was awesome though and very pretty to look at. There's a Japanese berry whose name escapes me sitting in the lower left which kind of reminded me of a cross between a dried plum and a cherry.
One interesting thing about this first course is that gives you a good idea about the presentation importance for Morimoto. Take some time to look at other people's dishes as they come out. There is some really beautiful stuff being served. This is an awesome starter dish.
This is the kanpachi / amberjack second course. Very light, delicious pieces of fish in a light oil. And again, very pretty with how it's gently rolled up.
Japan meets Italy in Morimoto's take on bagna cauda. It' s like a fondue (notice the long wooden skewer in the tomato). There's a small flame to heat up the oil and garlic anchovy bits at the bottom. Your dipping material includes radishes, celery, baby carrots, etc. to the right. Also very delicious. I wouldn't have minded a bit more bread than the two small pieces of rye. At least, I didn't embarrass myself by sticking in my tongue when I had run out of dipping food.
Below is a foie gras and duck meat chawan mushi. This is about as tasty of a soup as you are ever going to find. It's rich and hearty and yet tastes very clean. If you don't know what the ingredients are, you're thinking, oh look some some soup. And then that first spoonful hits you and you're thinking "wow!" Luckily the spoon is fairly small and the consomme was hot enough to let me savor it over time.
Some tasting menus tend to chain feed you with one dish after another of increasing heaviness as you get to the heaviest, main course. Others, like Morimoto, want you to pause and refresh your palate before the heaviest course. Below is a very light miso broth which is supposedly designed to stimulate your appetite. Well, I don' t know about stimulating as the dishes overall were still pretty light, but it's a nice breather and cleanser before going on.
Can't have a Morimoto omakase without some nigiri sushi right? Some very wonderful fish (can't ever go wrong with more toro).
This miserable shot of a picture is the main course. By this time, night time was definitely well on its way, and all I had was a cell phone with me. Clockwise from the top were some juicy cuts of pork and ginger in a light soy-based sauce (ie, pink and orange blurry thing). Two very delicious and rich rolls of beef (wagyu?). A spicy serving of perfectly cooked lobster (cumin?) and lobster claw. And going back to the palate refreshing theme, a bit of citrusy creme fraiche for you to give your taste buds a breather between bits or between proteins.
The sushi below isn't part of the omakase but we ordered it anyway because we saw it on someone's table. Look how pretty that thing is! It's some sort of tiled maki roll with tuna and egg in the middle with I think cucumber in the corners (I had to transfer 4 of the 6 pieces to a white plate to make for a better picture since it was rapidly getting darker by now)
The last dish below in the omakase was dessert. This is basically 4 bits of ice cream (peach, pear, pistachio, and....maybe green tea?) in a champagne sabayon sauce with a few pistachios thrown in. Ok, this is a miserable picture and it looks like something out of Aliens, but it's like pitch black outside, and the primary light source for this picture is an iphone on flashlight mode. But it is a wonderful, refreshing dessert.
Sometimes, we go out for a meal. Sometimes, we go out for an experience. This was definitely an experience. Visually, the food is stunning, and it tastes terrific too. It's lighter than a normal tasting menu in the area, but the flavors are sublime. We need to go back for just a sushi run later.
It should also be mentioned that we also had a wine and sake pairing for the meal which was also excellent. We ended up getting one sake pairing and one wine pairing and then ended up splitting both throughout the meal.
What's interesting is that there were no weak dishes in this tasting menu. It was very strong and one of the best we've had in Napa Valley. This was much more fun, for instance, than the most recent French Laundry tasting menu we had which was about 3 x as much.
It did take us a while to get through the tasting menu. A bit more than 3 hours. This might not seem like a lot of food for that time, but savor your food and enjoy the company and the little works of art at the other tables.
Morimoto Napa setting and service
We went on day 2 of the opening. The staff had been training for a month before hand. It's funny when you start eating enough around here that you start recognizing the front staff from other restaurants. Morimoto flew in key staff from New York and Hawaii to help with the opening and the crowd was heavy. I thought the staff was friendly and good. Openings are absolutely brutal especially when most of the staff was very new to the bewildering amount of Japanese terminology and ingredients on the menu. Overall, I was impressed at how well everybody was working together given the heavy load and novelty of the restaurant.
Inside, it's a very chic city feel. You know, weird shapes in the furniture, an assortment of colors, lighting, and seating arrangements, the light trance music with the French whisperings, you get the idea. It will definitely be the place to see and be seen in Napa Valley.
There are some bugs that they have to work out. For one, they're right on the water which means the air is fairly cold when the evening breeze comes in. They don't have enough heaters to balance that out. The outside lighting also needs to be beefed up significantly. One other thing to watch out for when you eat out is that there is a public walkway right next to the exterior seating, and the fabulous people eating at Morimoto might want more privacy from the folks walking back and forth. Morimoto might want to consider some shrubs, light curtains, or something to give a bit more privacy. Another reason for a visual blocker would be that the Napa river is not much of a site when we're in the dry season. It's kind of gross. And another reason is that maybe the patrons don't want to look across the river to see a bunch of car dealerships and auto shops. I wonder how much business Greenberg auto is getting with that huge sign across the street. :)
Price of our meal
Well, let's see...Omakase ($110 per person). Plus one additional roll (~$12) Wine and sushi pairing ($40 for wine and similarly $40 for the sake). Tax and tip was about...$420.
So, some might balk at the price given that you won't come out stuffed. But tasting menus are always about the experience, never the food per $. And the experience was pretty good compared to the tasting menus in the area. It's probably one of the most fun we've ever had at a tasting menu. From that perspective, the total tab was actually pretty reasonable given our sheer delight of the offerings.
Supposedly, if we were to come in later and said we've already had the primary omakase, they'll try to whip up something new which might be an interesting experience in itself.
Other Morimoto Napa reviews and links
- Yelp reviews (check out the images of the food)
- Thirsty Reader look at the Morimoto advance peek at the Napa Valley Opera House fundraiser.
- Some nice shots of the interior at sf.eater.com