Monday, December 17, 2007


Morimoto, Japanese cuisine from the famed Iron Chef in downtown Philly

We first tried Morimoto's restaurant several years ago on a visit to Philly. At a recommendation from my father, we sat at the sushi bar, and ended up right across from the station of the chef himself. It was a real treat to watch him work, illuminating for us that he loves the "chef" part of being a celebrity chef more than the other, and that likely he started a restaurant mainly so he could cook more. He seemed to be having a great time preparing at his station, tossing scraps into his mouth from time to time. When one of the staff came over to request a picture, though, he grimaced, or looked resigned, then smiled for the camera and the tourists, and as soon as possible went back to preparing.

That's the kind of place you want to go back to. It helped that the sushi was the best we've ever had. So when Mark and I found ourselves in Philly again in December, we dragged Ned, Laura, and Brent there for sushi and other delights.

The interior is decorated with gentle waves. The lights cycle through a rainbow of colors, slowly enough that you look up halfway through the meal and say, "wait, wasn't the lighting blue when we came in?" It seems like a very late 80's-early 90's decor (if "modern" is now the sparse, clean look of a place like Citrine--very different restaurant, I know), but that's not to say it's bad. It is certainly a very relaxing atmosphere, if not what I would think of as Japanese.

The service was not quite as good this time as on the previous occasions, when we were at the sushi bar (the last time, we got the "omakase" or chef's dinner, and the server asked about our dietary preferences, explained each of the courses, and handwrote them out on a paper for us when we asked for a menu, explaining that there was no fixed menu, it was just whatever the chef was preparing at the time). Still, we had no real complaints about it, and the food more than made up for it.

Sushi. Oh, the sushi. Creamy octopus that didn't taste rubbery, heavenly tuna, divine fatty tuna, shrimp, yellowtail, mackerel, red snapper, salmon... plus a spicy tuna roll, a tempura shrimp roll, and another I can't quite place. We ordered the $100 sushi plate for four and it probably would've been a good dinner for the four of us (Brent doesn't like raw fish, and opted for the "Morimoto Surf'n'Turf," which he pronounced excellent).

However, we were greedy, so we also ordered tuna pizza and cha-soba, cold soba noodles with sauce, as well as a mushroom and seafood soup that we were advised to eat by eating the solid vegetables and meat with chopsticks and then drinking the broth. The tuna pizza, we'd heard, was something he insisted on putting on the menu despite the advice that "Philadelphia isn't ready for it." It was delicious, though I thought the soba noodles were a bit better, and the soup had a great blend of flavors: fish and seasonings, nothing overpowering or too strong.

Though we were pretty full after that, we couldn't resist dessert. There's a sorbet trio, which turned out that night to be coconut, chocolate cardamom, and some kind of berry. Laura got the chocolate-caramel parfait, which was declared the winner, although the chocolate cardamom sorbet was amazing as well. They were so good that they obscure the memory of the dessert Ned got, which I'm sure was delicious as well.

We can't wait to go back. It's funny that, living in the Bay Area, our favorite sushi is from a Philly restaurant. We can only hope that Morimoto opens a place out here by the Bay sometime soon. Until then, we'll have our memories...

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