Morimoto: Iron Chef vs. Iron Stomachs
1775 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu, HI (inside the Modern Honolulu Hotel)
Up the stairs and through a set of giant majestic white doors is Morimoto Waikiki, owned by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. For those of you who have been living under a rock, Iron Chef is a culinary game show that originated in Japan. Two chefs battle for the title of “Iron Chef” by making a meal out of the secret ingredient revealed only moments before the competition beings. Chef Morimoto is an Iron Chef from the original TV series, he also appears on the American adaptation of the show. Our server told us that Chef Morimoto often stops into the restaurant to meet with the staff and introduce new menu items to the kitchen crew. He wasn’t at the restaurant during our visit since he was busy on Maui opening a new restaurant. The spacious dining room at Morimoto is impressive and inviting. Some of the table tops were constructed out of glass cases that contained water gardens of brilliant green aqua plants. We were seated on the patio with a backdrop of sailboats, the tables were a chic, sparkly white, the chopsticks were made of a clear plastic and each table was dressed with a single candle inside a slender frosted glass.
As we waited for our food, I enjoyed a lychee breeze cocktail, which was refreshing and sweet. I loved the giant, whole lychee floating in the drink, soaking up the cocktail and staying plump and juicy. It really whet my appetite.
In the spirit of all the Iron Chef Battles I’ve watched on TV, this blog post will be written according to Iron Chef judging criteria: for a maximum of 20 points, 10 points will be awarded for taste, 5 points for plating and 5 points for originality. The secret ingredient is: Hawaii’s freshest ingredients. The competitor: our Iron Stomachs. Allez cuisine!
First dish: Toro Tartare with wasabi, Maui onion, dashi soy and a selection of dipping sauces
Taste: 9, Plating: 10, Originality: 9
Like a work of art, the silky smooth toro tartare was plated up so beautifully, we almost didn’t want to ruin the display by eating it. Known as one of Morimoto’s signature dishes, the toro tartare is chopped up so finely, that it can be shaped into a shallow, rectangular dish. The dipping sauces were just as original as the texture of the tartare, my favourite was the little rice krispies, whimsical and tasty, the rice added a crunch to the dish. I also loved the sour cream but I mostly ate the tartare on its own, it was so fresh and flavourful. We were armed with little metal paddles and were instructed to scoop the tartare upwards to remove it from the rectangular dish. There was also a sweet and sour little plum in the dish to cleanse our palates. I was impressed that the server spent a lot of time with us explaining how to eat the dish, the concept behind it and he went into depth to point out all the ingredients. I appreciated the thoughtful and thorough service, it really added to our experience.
Second dish: Morimoto Sashimi, seared toro, smoked salmon, eel, tuna, hamachi, five sauces
Taste: 8, Plating: 10, Originality: 10
The most fun thing about this dish were the five sauces that came in little plastic squeeze bottles. We were encouraged to paint the sauces onto the large white plate, using the plate as a canvas. It was like kindergarten art class all over again. We thoroughly enjoyed engaging with this dish and playing with our food. The sauces ranged from salty, sweet to spicy but we preferred to eat the sashimi cubes plain. I was surprised to find the sashimi plated up in this manner, I am used to seeing sahimi just simply sliced and fanned out on a plate with radish and lettuce. These little cubes of raw fish were decadent but may have affected the taste. All we could taste was the smoked salmon. We love smoked salmon but the other delicate flavours of the toro and hamachi were no competition for the scene stealing salmon. We did deconstruct the little cube and eat the sashimi slice by slice, it was delicious eaten separately but we may have destroyed a carefully conceived concept for the dish.
Third dish: Duck, duck, duck, seared duck breast, duck confit spring roll, duck meatball soup
Taste: 9, Plating: 10, Originality: 8
I kept thinking about the elementary school game, “duck, duck, goose,” while I was eating this dish. It would have been creative if Morimoto added some foie gras to the dish and added “goose” to the name of the dish. This dish was delicious and lovely, top marks for plating once again. The least attractive item on the dish turned out to be the most delicious though. The homey and rustic looking pot pie in the top left of the dish looks like something served up amongst the working class in “Game of Thrones,” the little knobby-looking duck meatball inside is incredible, gamey and moist, it was little but scrumptious. I kept fishing around with my spoon for more of them after I hungrily gobbled one up. The duck soup was also very clear and fresh tasting, not heavy and overpowering. The duck breast was a showstopper, seared to perfection, it was moist and juicy. The spring rolls added a wonderful texture to the dish with its crispy shell and little bits of tasty duck confit inside.
Fourth dish: Seafood ‘toban yaki,’ keahole lobster, alaskan king crab, mussel, clam, diver scallop, spicy red miso-sake broth
Taste: 8, Plating: 7, Originality: 8
Points deducted for plating, we have seen this elsewhere. Traditionally cooked with beef, the seafood toban yaki was a great twist on the dish. Leaving the lobster and crab legs in their shells was brilliant as the dramatic red added to the aesthetic of the dish. The variety of seafood was excellent, some of the meat seemed overcooked though, it might have been wise to include a side plate with the ceramic dish. As the seafood soaked up the delicious and spicy miso-sake broth, it may have become overcooked. The broth was shockingly spicy, almost to the ‘tongue on fire’ level.
Dessert: Tofu cheesecake, kuromitsu, kinako, adzuki
Taste: 10, Plating: 10, Originality: 9
This was a light refreshing dessert. It’s appropriate for the Eastern palate, reminiscent of feathery light Japanese cheesecakes, subtly sweet and delicate. I have only had tofu cheesecake one other time at West in Vancouver, even that cheesecake was a little bit more dense than this fragile Morimoto version.
Dessert: Chocolate peanut bombe, milk chocolate cremeux, peanut dragee, salted peanut ice cream
Taste: 10, Plating: 10, Originality: 9
This was one of my favourite items, maybe because it was the combination of my two favourite flavours: chocolate and peanut butter. And to top it all off, the cake was decorated with a shiny 24 carat gold leaf. The chocolate cake was more of a soft and smooth mousse, but the flavours were so rich and dense, just a little spoonful deserves hours of savouring. The little pile of peanuts on one end of the cake added a salty, crunchy texture to the dish and the rich salted peanut ice cream topped off the dish with the perfect amount of salty to sweet ratio.
We had a wonderful time at Morimoto Waikiki and would gladly return to try it again. There is also an omakase option which would be interesting to try next time.