Morimoto Napa – 8/28/10

Morimoto Napa
610 Main St
Napa, CA 94559

Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s first venture on the west coast is in the small town of Napa in the heart of wine country. Given the slower, leisurely pace of this small town, I was expecting a rather quaint restaurant. I was mistaken. The restaurant is bustling – the lounge, bar and dining room were packed to the brim with customers, with staff carving dizzying paths through these three areas and the kitchen.

Before I look like an idiot, these images were taken at the end of the night.

Morimoto Napa is not a traditional Japanese sushi house….kind of like how Morimoto not a typical Japanese chef. This place is trendy – the decor and crowd instantly reminded me of something like Geisha House, Koi or Katsuya in LA. Considering Morimoto’s background of being head chef at the famed Nobu in New York, I could see the parallels in decor.

The menu features a wide array of hot and cold appetizers, salads, entrees, and (of course) an extensive sushi menu. We opted to order a variety of dishes instead of the omakase, in order to sample a variety of hot and cold dishes.

Toro Tartare wasabi, nori paste, sour cream

This was presented in a grand fashion, in a large bowl of ice. This has to be one of Morimoto’s most famed dishes – chopped up toro with a selection of accompaniments to help yourself to.  From left to right, these were: nori paste, wasabi, creme fraiche, chives, avocado and rice crackers. It’s a fun and playful dish, and each of the accompaniments were quite good. However, my favorites were the nori and (surprisingly) the avocado – the rice crackers were perfect to add a bit of texture.

Morimoto Sashimi seared toro, salmon, eel, tuna, hamachi, five sauces

Layers of smoked salmon, hamachi, eel, chu-toro, eel and oyster mushrooms were combined to make these sashimi bites. Accompanying them were a number of sauces including arugula oil, yuzu vinaigrette, eel sauce, and red and yellow pepper sauces. I’m often not a big fan of maki rolls that combine a variety of fishes, as you can’t distinctly taste any one fish. This dish followed those same traits, however it was pretty tasty.

Tuna Pizza anchovy aioli, olives, jalapeno

A pretty unique dish here with tuna as a featured ingredient in this raw “pizza.” The flavors were pretty good here; the jalapeno, while prevalent, wasn’t overly spicy.

Ramen morimoto chicken noodle soup

Did I mention we were sitting outside with the temperature in the low 50s? A bowl of ramen soup was in order. This ramen was really more like a Vietnamese pho ga, with its hearty chicken broth, shredded chicken, and rice noodle (not a common type of noodle for ramen, as far as I know. Having said that, it was a deeply satisfying and comforting bowl of chicken noodle soup.

Rock Shrimp Tempura spicy kochujan sauce, wasabi aioli

I remember this dish from my trips to Nobu, but this variation is a little different. Plump and juicy pieces of perfectly-fried shrimp were served in two sauces. Both sauces were good with just the right amount of heat – I preferred the more complex flavor of the kochujan over the wasabi.

Whole Roasted Lobster “Epice” garam masala, lemon creme fraiche

This whole roasted lobster was an impressive thing on a plate. However, I found the tail meat to be rather mealy, though the claws were succulent and delicious. I thought the garam masala was rather one-note; the lemon creme fraiche was good in tempering the mild heat of the curry, while adding some acidity to the dish.

Braised Black Cod ginger-soy reduction

Most fusion Japanese restaurants seem to have some sort of variation of this dish on their menu. This cod really reminded me of Roy’s (Yamaguchi) version…which is a good thing. The fish was moist and flavorful with a really melt-in-mouth texture.

Crispy Whole Fish spicy tofu sauce, papaya sauce

I love the presentation of a whole fish, especially when deep fried. The fish was very moist with a rather mild flavor. The spicy tofu sauce was rather overpowering, though, for such a light fish.

Sea Urchin Carbonara smoked bacon, udon noodle, crispy shallot

This was definitely a ‘fusion’ dish – here, Morimoto is putting a Japanese spin on the classic Italian pasta. Interestingly, the udon noodles weren’t very thick (thinner than a linguine), and closely resembled those in the ramen. The creamy carbonara sauce was rich and delicious – a solid take on the classic. There was only one small piece of uni included, but it added a nice briny flavor to the rich pasta.

Chef’s Combination Sushi

Full as we were, we couldn’t leave without trying some sushi. We opted for one of the “chef’s combinations” which included spicy tuna, sake, kanpachi, chu-toro, hamachi, maguro, unagi, ebi, mirugai, and aji. What a disappointment. The sushi was rather pedestrian – it didn’t have the glistening sheen of fresh-cut fish, and had almost a dry mouth feel. I was missing the tender, melt-in-mouth feel from most of the pieces.

Doughnuts

For dessert, we had doughnut holes with a variety of dipping sauces, including molasses, lavender honey, lavender sugar, soy sugar, powdered green tea and ginger sugar. These bites were warm and fresh out of the fryer, and the sauces brought back some of the playful customization we saw in the first few dishes.

In all, this was a solid meal. Good, but not great. I did not expect to have a mind-blowing experience here; rather, I wanted to try some of the interesting non-traditional dishes Morimoto has to offer. Outside of the surprisingly poor sushi showing, the dishes demonstrated some creativity and strong execution. I can’t say I anticipate being back (there are so many other places I want to try in the Napa Valley), though I do look forward to trying Morimoto’s new venture (his first non-Asian one) in Los Angeles.

Mako Sushi – 6/25/10

Mako Sushi
123 Astronaut E S Onizuka St. Ste 307
Los Angeles, CA 90012

One of my friends is a regular at Mako, and he recommended giving their omakase a try. Located in the same Weller Court plaza as the infamous Orochon, its third-floor location doesn’t get a whole lot of foot traffic. Thus, I am calling this a hidden gem. We went with the $70 omakase, the higher of the two levels ($45 and $70) offered.

The first dish to come out was a cucumber and seaweed “salad” topped with sesame.

With its light, fresh flavors, this was a good start to the meal. Next up was an avocado filled with salmon eggs.

This avocado was very nicely ripe, and the salmon egg provided a nice saltiness to pair with the richness of the avocado. Next, a very interesting dish with sticky yam, okra, tuna, quail egg, seaweed and wasabi.

This dish was stirred up, and created a little bit of a gooey pasta-like dish with the yam. Quite good. Next came our first cooked fish – Hokkaido sea scallops with green beans, and matsutake and enoki mushrooms.

This came out with a dipping sauce.

I enjoyed this dish, though my last scallop was rather overcooked. This may have been my fault – I probably should have taken it off the sizzling plate sooner. Continuing with the cooked dishes was a tempura oyster and cod served with katsu sauce and a tartar sauce.

Both the cod and oyster were nicely cooked and pretty moist – especially the oyster. Up next was a sashimi course – Spanish mackerel, halibut, red snapper, toro, yellowtail stomach and salmon.

I was looking forward to our first raw fish preparation. Overall, all of the fish was very solid. The toro did not have as much of a melt-in-your-mouth feel as some others I’ve had, but the flavors were there.

Following was a Spanish mackerel, served cold in a Japanese marinade.

I always find difficult in eating a whole bone-in fish with chopsticks. However, I managed, and was able to eat the succulent meat of the fish, heightened with flavors of mirin and soy. Next up, raw oysters.

These were really delicious. The oysters had a clean, fresh taste to them, which was complemented by the soy and scallions. Next came the only sushi course, made up of tuna, yellowtail, salmon, uni and smelt egg.

Each of these were pretty good – the highlight for me was the uni. Bad uni can be very apparent. Luckily, this was not the case – this uni had a fresh, slightly sweet flavor.

Lastly, we had a bowl of miso soup with mushrooms to finish off the meal.

I was pretty pleased with this meal. Although it did not have as much sushi/sashimi preparations as I tend to be accustomed to, the variety of dishes was pretty great, and presented a pretty good value. The fish used in each course was very fresh, and there really were no missteps throughout our meal.

Sushi Sasabune – 3/15/10

Sushi Sasabune
12400 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025

Spontaneously, my friend and I decided to get our sushi fix at Sushi Sasabune on the westside. I’d never been here before, and it was a good opportunity to try something new since I had gotten off of work early.

The interior was surprisingly large, with dozens of tables, a long sushi bar, and an open kitchen.

As with most well-regarded sushi restaurants, we decided omakase was the way to go in order to sample a lot of the restaurant’s specialties and freshest fish. Amusingly, we were offered the ‘American’ option or the ‘Japanese’ option. The ‘American’ option is directed towards that exact clientele, with more typical sushi. If you’re not averse to eating anything, the waitress recommended the ‘Japanese’ option. So, we told the restaurant to give it all to us and went for the ‘Japanese’ omakase.

First, housemade pickled ginger and fresh wasabi was presented.

The first course was ono sashimi, marinated in soy. This was very tender, and the soy was not overpowering.

Next up was a sashimi of Japanese razor clam (Tairagai). The flesh was pretty firm, kind of chewy, and a little sandy. Not my favorite dish.

Next began the sushi, and what better way to start than with tuna and fatty tuna, toro. The tuna was good, though not melt-in-your-mouth tender. The toro was a little disappointing as it was very tender but a little mushy. Both had good flavor.

Snapper and halibut came next. Both of these were quite good.

Baked green mussel and oyster.

Salmon and yellowtail were next. The salmon, topped with marinated kombu, was tender and flavorful. The yellowtail was just as good.

Next came what was likely my favorite dish of the night: two kinds of sweet shrimp, the large one from Alaska, and the smaller one from Boston. The larger shrimp had a great bite to it, was a little juicy, and mildly sweet. Very good. The shrimp from Boston was a little bit slimey, and didn’t have the great bite that the larger one did.

Spanish mackerel and regular mackerel were next. The regular mackerel was topped with the marinated kombu, while the Spanish mackerel was topped with a ponzu sauce. I thought the Spanish mackerel was much better here, tender and more flavorful.

Uni and salmon roe – a great pairing.  The uni here was delicious, very fresh and not fishy at all. The roe was also tasty.

Next, we were served jumbo clam and orange clam. Clams aren’t my favorite sushi options as I find them too chewy or dense for my liking. These two were no exception.

Next we were served a fried fish head and marinated fish roe served in its body – definitely not featured on the ‘American’ menu.

The fish head was great, as it was perfectly fried and had a nice shrimp flavor. The shrimp roe is definitely an acquired taste. I don’t think I’ve had it before, but it was marinated in a citrus sauce that was a little overpowering.

Seared monkfish liver and golden snapper were the final nigiri preparations. Both of these were quite good, especially the monkfish liver. It had a fantastic melt-in-your-mouth texture.

Lastly, we had blue crab and toro cut rolls. The crabmeat was sweet and tasty, and the toro was good as well.

Lastly, we finished with an assortment of mochi: green tea, mango, and strawberry. I’m pretty sure these were not made in-house as the strawberry one tasted particularly artificial.

Overall, the meal was a pleasant experience, and a little cheaper than anticipated. I wouldn’t say the best sushi in the city is here, but there is a lot of high-quality fish that is more than suitable for a sushi craving.