Dinner at Morimoto Sushi Bar
both on the original Japanese program and the new Food Network
creation, Iron Chef America, and this restaurant, a simple sushi bar
focusing on painstaking, time-honored Japanese preparation, is his
first in South Florida. However, the only snag in our dinner plans was
this: the Boca Resort, in which Morimoto is located, is exclusively
private. Only guests of the hotel or members of the resort are invited
to dine on Morimoto's infamous tuna pizza or his savory rock shrimp
tempura or his line of specialty beers.
And since -- despite my logical and passionate arguments otherwise --
my boss was not willing to put me up for a night in the resort, we,
like many of South Florida's sushi lovers, were out of luck.
But maybe not. Last month we wrote a post about how, despite a few calls to the resort's PR staff, we were unable to requisition a table at Morimoto.
Turns out, though, that someone else who handles PR for the resort
externally caught wind of our post, and invited us to dinner at the
Sushi Bar. So, two weeks ago, we hoofed it out to the beautiful and
historical Boca Resort. We marveled at the European inspired cloister
and newly-refurbished lobby. And we had a lovely -- absolutely lovely -- meal at Morimoto Sushi Bar.
Hit the jump for pictures and descriptions.
Despite what you might expect at a celeb chef's restaurant, the menu
at Morimoto is extraordinarily simple. There's a few appetizers,
including some hot and cold dishes taken directly from the menu of
Morimoto's Philadelphia restaurant,
two soups and three salads, and just over a dozen maki rolls. The real
draw, however, is the plentiful and diverse array of fish, most of
which is exquisitely fresh and flown in directly from Japan at least
once per week (about 70% of the fish is received this way, according to
staff). Although Morimoto has spent a significant amount of time at the
restaurant so far, and plans to stop in multiple times per year
hereafter, the man overseeing the day-to-day food operations is the
head sushi chef Takao Soejima, who also came over from Morimoto in
over the restaurant you can feel Morimoto's touch -- the layout is
simple and unpretentious, with comfortable, blue retro chairs and plain
white walls interrupted only by a row of crystalline plasmas behind the
marble sushi bar that loop undersea vistas. The service is equally
modest, and, judging from the number of resort members who had flocks
of children in tow with them, completely accommodating.
started with a staple Morimoto dish, tuna pizza on grilled tortilla.
The circular "pie," constructed of thin-sliced, high-grade tuna, fresh
tomato, slivers of red onion, raw jalapeno, anchovy aioli, and a few
dashes of Tabasco, is a perfect example of the Chef's ethic. Moromito
was always renown for both his simplicity and his ability to
reconstruct the well-trodden. The dish, with the crunch from the
tortilla, the crisp, fresh veggies playing a spicy second to the tuna's
cooling touch, was everything you want a pizza to be, yet nothing like
one at the same time.
Rock shrimp tempura, an absolutely flawless appetizer if there ever
was one. Each chopstick-sized bite of tender, juicy shrimp was lovingly
draped in Morimoto's version of spicy mayo, a concoction that feels
less like "aioli" and more like a velvety brushing of peppery
sweet-and-sour sauce. This dish has all the things that make good bar
food work -- spicy, crunchy, fried -- yet, with its edible garnish of
bitter endive, it's far more elegant than a fritter has any right to
our last app we tried whitefish carpaccio, a far more traditional
offering livened by a pool of ponzu-like sauce. The clean, buttery fish
managed to stay afloat flavor wise thanks to a rounding of sesame oil
which tempered the tangy mixture.
we dove into the apps and drank shochu, a floral, Japanese cousin to
vodka served here on the rocks, Soejima was busy in front of us
creating this tray of crystalline sashimi. On the left you'll see
goldeneye snapper (kinnmedai), a ruddy fish procured during the wintery
to that you'll find salmon, fashioned into a cylindrical flower, and
big squares of rich maguro tuna, which Morimoto sources mostly from
Boston and the Mediterranean. Below that is a flower of aji, pink-hued
horse mackerel, and rounds of octopus, slow-simmered until beautifully
tender. Hiding behind the sail fashioned from the aji's body is
kampachi. Yes, that's real wasabi too. Everything here was
exceptionally fresh, though my favorite might have been the chopped
aji, it's richer flavor cooled by minced chives and (if my memory is
correct) grated ginger. You have to give points to the goldeneye also,
if not for flavor then for the sheer giddiness looking at it brings.
this point I was pretty much stuffed, but duty called. We shuffled
around plates and glasses to accomidate this huge tray of sushi that
was hoisted over the bar and set in front of us like a challenge. If
there ever was a plate of food that proved humanity's all-encompasing
command of the earth, this is it: a silky flower of baby squid with
roe, delicately cooked sea eel, glisteningly fresh uni, more kampachi
and maguro, dark-fleshed kohada, and a heaping of prized o-toro,
marbled with buttery fat. And that's to say nothing of the lovingly
handcrafted square maki, the o-toro rolls, and the two kinds of egg
square maki was definitely special, lined with tuna, salmon roe,
cucumber, and cream cheese, but was more beautiful to look at than it
was to eat. The squid flower was also in this category for me, though I
did enjoy the spurts of salty essence released when I clenched down on
the roe (admittedly, that's not for everyone). You can make out a bit
of the tamago here, sweetened egg custard, which was fluffy and
brilliant contrast to the fleshy sea life. The egg custard you see on
the right in the main picture is kasutera (or egg castella), a baked
custard with pureed shrimp that's sweeter and cakier than traditional
tamago. It was the first time I've had that, and it was really, really good.
kohada, or shad, is a very typical type of sushi in Japan, but almost
never makes its way to the West. That could be because, in untrained
hands, the dark-fleshed fish is extraordinarilly gamey. In Morimoto's
kitchen, the kohada is transformed into a sublime testiment to the
strong flavors of the ocean - but only after a lengthy prep that
involves vinegar and salt water, effectively curing the fish. I had
this once before in Japan, about 7 years ago, and I had totally
forgotten how good it tasted until that first bite hit my mouth.
mammoth pieces of California uni were like pure gold on the plate. You
know how some uni can taste slightly metallic - almost coppery? Nothing
like that here. Just clean, transcendent ocean air that disolved on the
tongue. These were the freshest two peices of uni I've had in South
Florida, bar none.
highlight of the tray, however, was the sea eel and the o-toro. Sea eel
is similar to, but also worlds apart in texture from, the ubiquitous
fresh water eel you'll find at nearly all sushi bars. Morimoto's chefs
prepare their sea eel daily from live eels, which require a special
cutting board to - ahem - de-body. After lengthy prep, the meat is more
tender than fresh water eel, sort of in the same way that dark
chocolate is more complex than the milk version. The typical
uber-thick, uber-sweet eel sauce is replaced here by a thin draping of
Then there was the o-toro -- a meltingly rich
morsel of fatty tuna belly helped over a flawless bed of rice. I can
only imagine the life this fish must've lead: a diet of bacon and
potato chips and a more sendentary lifestyle than Morgan Spurlock in Super Size Me.
Thank god for that. Eating this o-toro requires less effort than not
having anything in your mouth at all. It literally chews itself.
capped off the meal with a couple glasses of Morimoto's own Soba ale,
made exclusively for his restaurants by Rogue Brewery. The manager told
me one of the varieties, his black ale, is available in stores, though
I suspect you could procure others as well if you really tried. And you
should. The crisp, Soba ale is similar to other Japanese beers like
Asahi or Sapporo in that it's light and dry, perfectly pairing with
sushi or balancing out salty sauces. But it also has this amazing
floral quality - an almost sake-like nose that floats up into your
brain as you sip it. God, what great beer. Morimoto also has his own
sake made in Japan - I sampled the ginjo, a sweet, fruity blend that
was all too easy to drink.
My experience at Morimoto was a
total success - but would I shell out the bucks it would take to get a
room at the resort for the night just to faciliate another meal? In
short, yes. Although I hesitate to call this a review, because
of the non-anonymous nature of my visit and (full disclosure) the fact
that the PR firm picked up the tab (despite my insistence otherwise), I
have no reason to believe that any other guest at Morimoto would enjoy
a less than equal experience. The place is decidedly small - Morimoto
certainly could've opened his restaurant in South Beach or West Palm
and the joint would've been packed every night. Getting a table
might've been equally tough, not to mention prohibitavely expensive,
and who knows how the food quality would've held up, especially with so
much of it being imported in careful quantities. As it stands, Morimoto
is serving the freshest sushi in South Florida right now and doing it
with patient and methodical grace - and you can't fake that.
-- John Linn
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