Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Morimoto remains our premier Japanese experience

Gallery Image
Chef sushi platter, as served at Morimoto. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
Gallery Image Gallery: Morimoto
About the restaurant
723 Chestnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19106
215-413-9070
Rating:
Neighborhood: Old City Parking: Valet parking ($12).
Hours: Lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30-2 p.m. Dinner Sunday through Wednesday, 5-10 p.m.; Thursday, until 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, until midnight.
Reservations: Recommended
Open Table
Prices: $$$
Payment methods:
American Express
Discover
MasterCard
Visa
Cuisine type: Japanese
Meals Served: Lunch - Mon., Tue., Wed., Thu., Fri. Dinner - Mon. thru Sun.
Style: Don’t expect to find the Iron Chef himself very often in his Philadelphia namesake anymore, but this contemporary room with wavy walls and color-shifting booths nonetheless remains the city’s premier top-line Japanese dining experience. From the extraordinary sushi atop house-polished rice to the informed service and well-executed and creative cooked menu, a meal here is an adventure. The omakase tasting menu is a treat for first-timers, while repeat diners need to push a bit for variation – but it’s an effort worth making.
Specialties: All sushi: oh-toro; unagi; kanpachi; amadai; aji; sawara; suzuki; hotate; mirugai; uni; king crab; kumamoto oysters Toro tartare; tuna pizza; Morimoto sashimi; carpaccio; miso scallops in tea dashi; 10-hour pork ‘kakuni’; yosedofu; cha-soba; chicken ramen soup; dobin mushi; ishi yaki bop; black cod miso; duck duck duck; matcha tres leches; salted white chocolate mousse torte with peppermint gelees. Dinner entrees, $24-$39; Omakase tastings, $60 at lunch; $80-$120 at dinner.
Alcohol: The medium-size cellar has an excellent international selection with many bottles under $50, including a strong group of crisp, aromatic whites, such as a Spanish Albariýo from Morgadio ($47), that are a good match to the cuisine. Very good house sakes.

When I first reviewed Morimoto 10 years ago, I had one of the thrills of my career. The Iron Chef himself stood across the green sushi counter, as he often did early on. He took out some long knives with deer-antler handles, and personally made me an omakase I'll never forget.

I can still taste the buttery toro tartare with shallots, the lobster sashimi splashed with soy and hot oil, the abalone seared on a hot rock, the sublime sushi, the sake crisp from a bamboo carafe.

It's a nice memory, since the chef rarely visits anymore after opening another namesake restaurant in New York. The result of his absence is less a decline than it is an obstacle to this kitchen's ability to grow. A place of this caliber needs a distinctive leader to bring it to the next level.

Maintaining the status quo at Morimoto, however, is no small achievement: It remains our premier Japanese experience. The color-shifting room, with its undulating walls and bamboo ceiling, is among our most distinctive.

More coverage
  • Lights, camera, Morimoto!
  • The kitchen, meanwhile, can still create memories - but regulars must push for fresh ideas. My lunch omakase began with the same dishes as always (toro tartare, etc.) until I asked the kitchen to step it up.

    They responded. Scallops caramelized with dark miso were drizzled with green tea. A sweet and citrusy sauce steeped from oolong-orange tea added softness to Madras-curried duck. But it was the sushi, as pristine as ever, that reminded me of Morimoto's worth, with silver needlefish, pink kanpachi, and perfect snapper folded over rice, itself the key ingredient. It gets polished from brown to white in the basement each morning to retain its extraordinary texture. Just as Master Morimoto planned.

    Craig LaBan Inquirer Restaurant Critic
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