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.
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.