Sunday, September 11, 2011

Out and About: Morimoto Napa

My husband and I recently were accused of being DINKS. Well, of course we are! I, being more familiar with the acronym, knew that yes, we fit the criteria for a Dual Income No Kids household. It just took a little 'splainin until Ran realized we weren't being insulted. In fact, our friends referred to us as such with a little bit of envy - we were free to go and do as we pleased - no sitters to arrange, no curfews to which to adhere, no real restraints on our discretionary funds. While I'm not going to debate the merits of DINKs vs. non-DINKs, all of that is true, and Ran and I take full advantage of our DINKy situation.

Couple our DINK status with the fact that we live and work in the Wine Country, and man - do we have a pretty sweet deal. After an especially tough week on so many levels, an opportunity presented itself for us to enjoy a night on the town, and boy did we pounce. In our world, a night on the town translated to a dinner at Morimoto restaurant here in Napa: Iron Chef, here we come.

Now, we'd both enjoyed many an evening at the Morimoto bar, enjoying appetizers and amazing cocktails (that's my Lemongrass Mojito pictured - yum). But in the year+ or so that it's been open, we'd never actually sat for dinner. The time had come.

So let me set the table for you: First of all, we were bound to have a good time, no matter what. Our mode that night was to celebrate life and to savor being in the moment. Spending time together was going to be our reward that evening regardless; we could have been at the KFC. Our spirits aside, however, we were looking forward to checking out the acclaimed restaurant and seeing for ourselves if it lived up to all the hype. The short answer: yes and no.

We DID have a lovely time. Despite practically yelling at each other across our table in the noisy, noisy restaurant, we laughed, talked and cajoled each other all evening long. (Note to self and others that book in the warm months: request an outside table.) The food was mostly very good, and sometimes exceptional. The service, however, was sadly not up to par.

I ordered the Chef's Omakase Tasting Menu (the best deal by far at $120 per person for seven courses that beautifully cover the Morimoto gamut). To round out our experience, we chose another five courses for Randall so that we'd be assured of truly sampling a little bit of every corner of the vast menu.

As to be expected, where Morimoto excelled was with the fish dishes. Our tempura shrimp appetizer (Asian buffalo wing style), the legendary toro tartare appetizer (I can't ever go there without ordering it), the sushi, and one particular oil-poached fish dish were exceptional. The fish dish from my tasting menu, three precious bites, was my favorite taste of the evening (I wish I knew what it was!). It was so delicate, so perfectly cooked, so nicely paired with fresh cilantro that made the whole bite pop with freshness - I could have had more. Way more.

Where the food fell short was in the entrees. Ran ordered the whole roasted lobster, and nowhere on the menu did it specify that it was seasoned with Chinese five spice. On the advice of our waiter, we ordered the duck confit fried rice to accompany it, and it too was seasoned with Chinese five spice. Now, I hold nothing against the Chinese five spice, but Ran isn't the biggest fan, and here he was with his main dish and his starchy side, both overpowered by the strong flavor. And they were both oversalted as well. As for my main dish, I got a couple bites of toro/mushroom Wellington (meh); wagyu beef (good, but literally two bites); and a duck cheek (?) something or other than was so bland I wish that there had been salt at the table. So, we had had bite after bite - mostly fantastic - leading up to the big finish, and the big finish was a big disappointment.

As for the service, I'm sorry: If you are paying the kind of prices that Morimoto demands, I expect nothing short of excellence. But there were some very basic service missteps. To my point, I had to ask for silverware no fewer than four times. For example, we ordered the ramen. Our server exclaimed that we absolutely MUST use a fork in order to get every last noodle. But he didn't bring a fork. Example #2: I had a lovely watermelon sorbet as an intermezzo course, but was left with only chopsticks with which to try and eat it. Huh. There were little episodes like this throughout the night where the service just simply missed its mark.

But again: fantastic night. Final assessment: Go. Absolutely go. But stick to starters, sushi and cocktails. In fact - just go to the bar! You get mostly the same experience, can order the entire menu right there, and it's super fun. You'll drop some coin, but hey - when you go where the beautiful people go, that's what you'd expect, right?

Anyhow - enjoy the photos from our evening, because yes, I lugged my big camera along and played blogger every step of the way. Grin.

Toro tartare - a must!

Tempura popcorn shrimp

My favorite dish of the night - some sort of oil-poached fish.

Bagna Cauda

Chicken ramen noodle soup

Egg custard with a foie gras gelee and a slice of duck breast - this was AMAZING. I could have licked the dish clean. Maybe I did.

Out of focus watermelon sorbet


Tasting menu entree

Oven-roasted lobster

Duck confit fried rice

Peach sorbet with jalepeno churros (sorry - bad photo!)

Tofu cheesecake

Coffee - Ran especially liked the china


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