Masaharu Morimoto is the highly skilled Japanese chef who has been featured on Iron Chef and Iron Chef America. He is highly skilled, but you might not know that he has several restaurants where you can actually taste some of the food that he has prepared in culinary battles on the show (as well as lots of other tasty dishes). The newest of his restaurants is Morimoto Napa, located in the new Riverfront complex in Napa California and I was able to meet up with some friends for a meal there on my recent trip up north.
The restaurant is a huge, beautiful space with lots of funky lighting and massive natural wood tables. It is relatively new to the area (and has only been open for a few months as I write this), but is clearly popular already. The food is Japanese fusion, and the restaurant has a sushi bar and a menu that features a variety of Asian and American-influenced dishes. We ordered quite a few things in the hopes of getting a good feel for the food.
We start out with a Tuna Pizza, which consisted of a grilled tortilla covered with thinly sliced [raw] tuna and topped anchovy aioli, olives and jalapeno peppers. Our waitress told us that this dish was one of Morimoto’s signature items. It was delicious. Another appetizer was the Spicy King Crab Legs, with tobanjan aioli and micro-cilantro. I’m not a big crab fan, but the legs were meaty and had a good spice to them.
We also got an order of the Kakuni, a.k.a. 10 Hour Pork Belly, for the table after our waitress advised us that it was so rich, it was best when shared. The pork belly was amazing. Not only was it incredibly flavorful, but it quite literally melted in your mouth. It was mostly fat, of course, so it was very rich and two or three bites were plenty. The congee that came with it was flavorful and had a great texture, too. This is a must try if you’re a pork fan.
For main dishes, we had four dishes. Duck Duck Goose was duck prepared five ways and came with crispy seared duck breast, duck meatball soup, a confit duck leg and duck confit fried rice with frozen foie gras that was topped with a fried duck egg. Everything about the dish, including the plating, was beautiful. The foie gras in the fried rice took a little away from the meaty duck flavor and gave it a more livery note, which you may or may not like depending on how you feel about the flavor of foie gras. It also came with a couple of fantastically flavored gooseberries (the goose in the dish’s title) that almost stole the show from all that duck!
Ishi Yaki Buri Bop was similar to Korean bibimbap and consisted of yellowtail that was served in a super hot stone bowl filled with rice, an egg and veggies. The server cooked the raw yellowtail on the sides of the hot bowl at the table and topped the dish with a soy-based sauce. This dish was very tasty, but might have actually been better if the buttery slices of yellowtail were left entirely raw, as sushi.
The Morimoto ‘Pork Chop and Applesauce’ was almost exactly what it sounds like, with miso-marinated pork chop paired with bacon kimchee and ginger apple puree. The pork was huge, but very tender and flavorful. Judging by the other plates that went out, it must be a very popular entree at the restaurant.
Our final dish was a Crispy Whole Fish with a spicy tofu sauce and a papaya salad. This was indeed a whole, deep-fried fish on a plate, although the succulent fish had been completely deboned and was filled with a flavorful sauce before serving. It made quite the impression when it arrived at the table! My photo of the fish didn’t turn out, but fortunately my friend Michelle’s photo did!
For dessert, we opted for a plate of donuts and a tray of ice cream sandwiches because they sounded good and were easy to share. The donuts hit the table still warm and dusted in cinnamon sugar. As if that weren’t enough, they came with a tray of dipping options in case you wanted to add lavender sugar, matcha powder, Japanese molasses or honey to your donuts. The ice cream sandwiches included a trio of flavors: peanut butter ice cream with peanut butter cookies, dark chocolate with dark chocolate sesame cookies, and white chocolate ice cream with kaffir lime cookies.
The downside to the restaurant is that it is extremely loud inside because the space is so huge and all hard surfaces. There is a big patio outside overlooking the river that is probably nice during the summer, but if you’re eating indoors it might be worth coming early or fairly late (we stayed very late and it was perfect the second half of the meal) to miss some of the crowd and some of the volume.
The food is great here, across the board, and our service was outstanding. Every dish is very interesting and very well prepared. I’d have to say that the pizza, the pork belly and the duck dish were my favorites – along with the desserts, of course. The menu is huge and it is a great place to come with a group of friends so that you can order multiple dishes and try them, although it is worth noting that the bar is nice and some people clearly just come here for drinks and a sushi roll or two.