Saturday, November 22, 2008

Iron Chef MORIMOTO makes Philly food fantastic /cheese conquers at PANORAMA

Am in Philadelphia for the weekend and last night I finally got to MORIMOTO ( where the Iron Chef himself actually rarely rules the court. Indeed, I was told that one of his TV show assistants now runs the open kitchen and the boss' visits are down to monthly stops. I believe this Philly hotspot was Chef Morimoto's first US venture, and on a Saturday night it was heaving; indeed the noise level was DAUNTING, so I was glad I was alone as conversation might have made me hoarse!

I started with a carafe of FUKUMITSUYA Morimoto, his own labeled Junmai Daiginjo Sake which has huge overtones of melon and a super rich flavor and texture. It was superb with all the raw fish that came out in may over-the-top tasting or Omakase These are available starting at $80, but I could not resist the $120 option which guaranteed upgrades to toro, lobster and kobe!

The long wide room has a wavy blond wood ceiling which made me fell like I was in the belly of a friendly whale. The walls are undulating off-white with 3-D sculpture like protrusions. Each white glass table is separated by low clear glass partitions which change color from red to blue to purple throughout the night. Along the right wall a one-step raised section has tables for two all along it (best for viewing the room) with the most wonderfully comfortable white leather chairs with black trim. The center section of the room is divided into tables for 4 or 6 (a quiet private dining room is available downstairs for larger groups) and the left wall again has tables for two stretching down its length to the kitchen at the rear. Sadly, the design and the loud music make this a place to go to see and eat, not hear your dining partners.

My server Alix was a gem, and so was Rachel the manager who helped with the wine (although she had never heard the female term "sommeileuse" before); there is no snotty pretense here; they just want to make you happy.

I started with a Timbale of TORO TARTARE loaded with CRISPY SHALLOTS which made every bite a fun crunch. It sat in a small pool of soy sauce and a YAMAMOMO or miniature Japanese Mountain Peach sat on the side (it was quite tasty and sweet). This was the first of many "melt in my mouth" dishes, each worth the upgrade price.

The only course that did not impress (save desserts) was the KUMAMOTO OYSTER dish which offered up three of the tasty sea gems each with a different sauce: Japanese Salsa, Citrus Ceviche with Yuzu and the most tasty Thai Fish Sauce with a mild Jalapeno(is that an oxymoron?) sitting on top. They do get presentation points for the yummy lime slice and a pretty orchid on the side.

The carpaccio was AMADAI, a seared TILEFISH with MITSUBA LEAF (Japanese parsley), YUZU SOY and HOT OIL, Ginger & Chive. This WHITEFISH was superb and the second of those "melt in my mouth" dishes that filled the evening.

SASHIMI SALAD is a nice change from all the raw fish with few greens. Here there are MIXED MICRO GREENS topped with slices of HAMACHI (more melt in my mouth) and served with a tangy YUZU VINAIGRETTE. An adorable balsamic green glazed the bottom of the plate that faced me :-)

At this point I began to think about the US fine dining experience at length. We have some truly amazing (what I would call) 3 star spots in every major city and more. In Europe, there is the Michelin 3 Star spots which generally (perhaps save for some spots like Gordon Ramsey in London) are quiet relaxing palaces of gastronomy where we can enjoy the food and the company. When the food was presented at Morimoto, I constantly found myself needing to ask what the dish was, as it was quite hard to hear (and some of the presenter's accents were heavy as well). I missed that 3 star syndrome when I dine here.

The intermezzo was a shot glass of APPLE MINT SODA and then a glass of MOET et CHANDON BRUT ROSE appeared which paired perfectly with the LOBSTER "EPICE" a half roasted lobster with eight spice blend, YUZU Creme Fraiche and garnished with a White Asparagus, Carrot and Broccoli. This dish is more akin to Indian spice blends and was indeed, quite spicy and oh so tasty. The rich whipped creme fraiche was just to cut the spice and I really did not use it save for a taste or two. The presentation of separated claw and tail was easy to eat and came out of the shell except for the smaller section of the claw, and Alix ran back with a mini-pick which did the job.

A super soft and tasty PINOTAGE from WILDEKRANS 2006 in Walker Bay, South Africa paired superbly with the (yes, melt in my mouth) SEARED KOBE BEEF in Basil Oil & Soy with small small slices of earthy TRUMPET MUSHROOMS.

One might have thought the meat was the last course, but SUSHI came next with five sashimi pieces of divine (melt again) CHU-TORO, SUZUKI (striped bass), KISU (Japanese whitefish), AOYAGI (a fun slightly chewy Orange clam) and AJI (Jackfish) which save for the toro was my new favorite fish. Rachel proffered an aromatic sake of pineapple, mango and actually celery nose that was fruit forward-JUNMAI GINJO "YUKI NO BOSHA" or "Cabin in the Sky," that was simply perfect with the sushi.

Dessert was the failure of the evening as I received a MARJOLAINE F. POINTE (stole from the famous Rhone Valley chef Ferdinand Pointe, where I have eaten) which was basically an almond dacquoise with green tea butter cream and did nothing for me. I moved on to a YUZU MERINGUE TART which was a tasty shortbread with marshmallow cream, but the crushed mango on the side was not ripe (and I was shocked to see I was charged $10 extra for a second dessert!). The best part of dessert was the Sparkling BUBBLY BAMBOO, a fruity bubbly called HOU HOU SHUU which was like champagne and raspberry cream soda!

I walked back to my hotel, PENN'S VIEW and sat at the bar for something I needed: Cheese. This wonderful hotel ( has a typical and very busy Italian restaurant called PANORAMA with a great bar serving over 100 wines by the glass. I ordered Flight #812, the Northern Italian Nights which was a way too young BARDOLINO 2007 "Le Fontaine" from Corte Gordoni; a 2005 BARBERA d'ASTI Superiore from L:a GIRIBALDINA "Val Sarmassa"; 204 BONARDA :Oltrepo Pavese-Carlino" from Castello di Luzzano was a true treat as was the 2005 VALPOLICELLA RIPASSO from Giuseppe Lonard. The 2000 AMARONE "Aurum" from Tenuta Valleselle was nice, but no revelation.

The Spanish cheese tray was superb:
A wonderfully lemony CANA de OUEJA Sheep from Murcia
one year aged MAHON RISERVA
LEONORA - a creamy yet bold goat
LA PERAL- always a mild blue cow from ASTURIAS

I went to bed very happy.

ALAN--still in Philly for more today