Ever heard of Chef Masaharu Morimoto? He became a household name thanks to the television show, Iron Chef. From watching him work on the show and researching his career, I always thought I would love to eat at his restaurant. Chef Morimoto is associated with at least 10 restaurants now, has created a line of beers with Rogue Ales and has a very successful cookbook in print. By all definitions of the word he is a culinary celebrity.
Even so, when I decided to visit Morimoto Waikiki, I did not have great hopes. Originally my friend and I were going to feast on the tasting menu, but once I read through the dishes, I thought it was unnecessary. I am always wary of eating at restaurants boasting a chef’s name who is not cooking there. Chefs have to step out from time to time and generally have very qualified head chefs or sous chefs running matters, but somehow I feel that if the restaurant bears your name, you should be cooking there.
To be fair, I have heard that Chef Morimoto does come in from time to time to cook. Upon arriving I set my mind to appreciate the concept built by the restaurant’s namesake and the training he instilled in his kitchen rather than tasting Morimoto’s creations from the man himself. My friend ordered us Yuzu Pear Gimlets, a drink that is no longer on the menu. However, if you are lucky to get the bartender that remembers the recipe, they are very nice evening starter.
I ordered the Yellowtail Pastrami which is thin fish slices with a thin coat of togarashi (Japanese chili pepper seasoning), served with a gin crème fraiche, candied olives and beet powder. The fish was nice and fresh; the togarashi spice was perfect without being overwhelming. Notwithstanding, the dish was a bit disjointed. When trying all the elements together it just did not taste right. My friend and I concurred that the beet powder negatively affected the balance of the dish. The candied olives were interesting, although I think dehydrated would have been a better descriptor.
As a main dish we were served Braised Black Cod with a ginger soy reduction, pickled bell peppers and budo mame. The cod and the reduction were both overcooked. The two most interesting elements on the dish were the miniscule garnishes (had I known this I would have photographed the dish differently, my apologies). The pickled bell peppers were thin sheets of bell pepper skin; beautiful to look at like colored vellum paper. Budo mame could be inadequately compared to southern baked beans. Usually a black soy bean by the name of kuromame is used and cooked with soy sauce and sugar until you end up with a bean that is glazed and looks very much like a small shiny grape.
We also ordered a Gobo Maki, a pickled burdock sushi roll. Burdock is the root of a thistle like floral plant. I have heard that its flavor slightly resembles lotus root. The sushi roll however was unremarkable. Do not despair readers, the entire dinner was not a failure. One dish saved the day! Yose Dofu. This is tofu prepared at your table and served with kimchee sauce and dashi broth. I can hear some of you groaning… I know. Tofu… not really that exiting, right? Wrong!
I am not a huge tofu fan, just because most people do not understand the subtlety of the ingredient and use it poorly. The whole process for the tableside tofu was very akin to making cheese. Heated soymilk was placed in a stone pot. A shot of nigari (magnesium chloride coagulant) is gently stirred in. The mixture is then covered and diners are instructed not to peek at or jostle the stone pot for ten minutes. After the wait, the lid is removed and the soymilk has transformed into a silken, delicate solid mass that is sliced and served.
The mouthfeel of the tofu was incredible and it served as a beautiful canvas for the kimchee sauce and dashi broth. Even so, in the back of my mind, I could not help but think that Namu Gaji could have done it better. Making fresh tofu is apparently a no-brainer once you have the proper measurements down, but pairing it with the right garnishes requires a bit of skill and I appreciate when said skill is used to create something a bit less orthodox. All that being said, the dish was wonderful and would be the only thing I would go back for.
If I returned I would want to eat the tofu with a side of pickled bell pepper skins and kuromame budo mame. Needless to say, I skipped dessert.
Until next time…