Monday, June 27, 2005

Morimoto, Part 2: Ei-Nyung's review

As Seppo mentioned, I had the $120 omakase (chef's tasting menu). This one had one more course than Seppo's, bringing it to a total of nine.

* toro tartare (fatty tuna): This was about a (big) shot glass-sized tower of chopped up fatty tuna with the same stuff as Seppo's yellowtail, sitting in a small pool of mirin-soy-sesame oil sauce, with some sort of caviar (Seppo's and mine were of different quality) on top and a garnish of cilantro, in a little cup-sized bowl. It was served with a tiny blob of wasabi on the side, of which we were encouraged to add a bit to every bite, along with a prickly plum of some sort (very soft, about the size of a cherry, with a bumpy skin that resembled a red lychee fruit with the skin on) which we ate at the end of the course as a palate cleanser.

The verdict: This was the first time I really understood the appeal of toro. It was almost creamy in texture, with a nice crispiness added to it from the fried shallot. The bit of wasabi kept the flavor from seeming dull with excessive richness. The plum was very delicate in texture and almost dissolved in the mouth. It may have been pickled or brined or mascerated or something, because that texture couldn't possibly exist for fruit in nature as-is. I really liked this plum, and could have eaten a jar of them. I liked my version of this better than Seppo's.

*kumamoto oysters: There were three different kinds of toppings. One was a ceviche-type, with the taste of citrus (prob lime) a dominant player. The oyster did not have any fishiness that is present in lesser quality oysters. For the life of me, I cannot remember what the other two were like, except that one had a plum-colored liquidy sauce and the other had a greenish topper, possibly some herby thing. Seppo did not have anything during this course, so I let him have the green one, and I ate the plum-colored one. This dish was served on half-shells, on a perfect mound of crushed ice, with a tiny wedge of lime.

The verdict: It was pretty good. I think I preferred the plum-colored one to the ceviche one, but honestly don't recall. I mean, it was good, but I think it was overshadowed by some of the other dishes. I don't generally enjoy oysters, but these were pretty good. Still a taste I have to acquire, so I wouldn't have missed them if they were not there, but I was glad to have tried them.

* hotate in hot garlic oil (scallop): It was served as very thinly sliced rounds covering the bottom of a plate, sitting in a light pool of very subtly hot garlic oil, with some sort of finely minced green. This was really really excellent as Seppo said, but I also liked his hirame, which had a really meaty texture, as a contrast to the first two dishes. It was probably about 1 or maaaaybe 1.5 scallops' worth of meat, and it had such a great texture. I find it hard to compare it to anything, except, well, really really tender scallops. Heh.

The verdict: Probably one of my top three dishes of the night. I think I actually enjoyed Seppo's version of this a bit more because of the texture difference in the courses.

* Jackfish and salad: The jackfish, which I don't think I've ever had before, came with a seared, skin-on portion on top of a large slice (or two) of the sashimi on top of what I think was a thin rolled square of raw sliced turnip (which tasted much more mild than usual raw turnip, sliced so thin you could probably see reasonably well through it). It was accompanied by tiny baby greens with aioli and chive oil on the side.

The verdict: It had a really enjoyable combination of textures, with the crispy fish skin, the soft sashimi, with a slightly crunchy bite of the turnip. The greens were good to dip into the aioli and chive oil, but I generally like my greens to bite a little back, and as these were very very young greens, they were perhaps a bit too delicate for me, but still all right. I used my spoon to try to get as much of the sauce from Seppo's seared tuna, because that was daaaamn good, whereas mine was damn good.

* citrus papaya sorbet: I tasted what I thought was distinctly mandarine oranges way more than the papaya, but it was not overwhelmingly tilted. It was a tiny scoop, about the size of a larger melonballer. It had a tiny, seriously microscopic three-leaf top of basil.

The verdict: It was pretty astoundingly good. Fresh flavor, like you are eating the fruit off the trees, but nice and cold without any cloying over-sweetness. Good texture, as Seppo mentioned. The texture was more like really silky gelato than traditional sorbet.

* lobster epice (half-lobster with something like 8 spices): This was served broiled in the shell, with a little thimble of sweet creme fraich with chopped chives. The lobster was really tasty, but very much like a really good lobster without much frills, but the genius was in pairing it with the very cool, very subtly sweetened creme fraich. Alternating bites as the server told us, the coolness soothed the slightly spicy taste of the lobster, as well as giving it that added bit of richness that might in other variation of lobster have come from melted butter covering the meat. Melted butter would have added richness, but would not have added any texture or temperture contrast to the warm lobster.

The verdict: Loved, loved, loved the pairing. Wouldn't necessarily have just the lobster again if not paired so excellently, because I could probably get lobster almost that good elsewhere. Seriously, such a small difference in preparation, but elevated this to an excellent and wonderfully enjoyable dish. One of my top three. I liked Seppo's version of this course (the rock shrimp) but I am definitely glad I got to try my version.

*kobe beef with foie gras: A long strip of medium-rare kobe beef about 2.5" by 8" with a 1" by 2" slab of grilled foie gras in some sort of... sauce. I don't know if it was pan drippings or what, because it just tasted like the two main things. The kobe beef was really tender and tasty in that super-fatty yummy way that you can imagine really damn good tender fatty meat to taste. Hee. It was my first time trying foie gras, which to me tasted just like eating the crisped up bits of fat on a really awesomely done short rib, except with a more meaty texture. I loved the taste, but didn't find that it was any more tasty than the crispy fat on short rib, so I feel like I don't really need to have more.

The verdict: This was both the best dish and the worst dish for me. It was the best because it just tasted SO. DAMN. GOOD. in that way that really great meat tastes great, but multiplied by at least five. BUT the problem was that it really tasted too salty. And this is coming from someone that uses the salt shaker in a compusive and unhealthy manner, so you can really trust me that it was too salty. I'm not talking so salty you didn't want to eat it, just like when you add a touch too much salt to something, and it just kinda goes a bit over the right balance. It makes me wonder what the dish would have been like if it weren't oversalted. But maybe it was salted just enough to really bring out the flavors? Because while it seemed too salty, the flavors were really excellent. Hmm. I don't know.

* sushi: Mine came with toro (fatty tuna), kanpachi (more expensive cut of yellowtail), shad, copper salmon, red snapper, and tobiko (salmon roe). Seppo gave me his suzuki (striped bass, my favorite) because he was being nice, and we swapped the two cuts of yellowtail (his hamachi for my kanpachi) because it is his favorite. I gave him my shad to make us even. It was served on a plank with wasabi and pickled ginger, the pale pink, good kind.

The verdict: I'm totally with Seppo on this. Angelfish is about 20x better. It was good sushi, but nothing I'd write home about (and yet here I am). They were very much just fish on rice, rather than the delicate balancing act of flavors you find at Angelfish (especially when you sit at the bar). The only one I was floored by was the copper salmon, which was so good when I popped it in my mouth that just for one short insane moment, I wondered if I could try to take back out a tiny bit to let Seppo taste. After that disgusting bit of insanity passed, I just revelled in the amazing flavor. It was definitely in the salmon family of flavors, but like the kobe beef, it was like all the best parts of really great salmon taste and texture mutiplied by five. I kinda dislike tobiko nigiri, even though I like it in small quantities on other sushi, and Morimoto's did nothing to change my mind.

* Chocolate cake? with white miso ice cream: The chocolate thing was about the size of a small cupcake, served warm with a blob of ice cream on top and little dabs of pear sauce and about 4 lightly candied nuts of some sort (looked like peanuts, I think). The chocolate cake was actively unmemorable. I think I've had better in my own kitchen and I know I've had better at Aperto's (a Bay Area Italian place that is reasonably priced). The ice cream was quite good, but somewhat confusing. Even being told beforehand that it was white miso, I was unable to detect the flavor. It really made me go, "Tastes like great vanilla ice cream," then "No, that's not vanilla," then "Oh no, it's not at all vanilla," then "Oh, it is so vanilla". I loved the pear sauce and candied nuts. I could have eaten giant spoonfuls of the pear sauce by itself.

The verdict: Definitely an interesting balance of flavors and textures that I enjoyed, despite the chocolate cake being so-so on its own. Like the lobster, I think the selling point is in the combination of the flavors and textures on the plate. Damn, I can still taste the pear sauce and candied nuts. I'll never have such a delicious sauce again, I just know it.

The bottom line: I think it was 100% definitely worth going for the $120 omakase once, but given that the $80 one was SO good and in no way compared disfavorably to the more expensive one, I would definitely go with the $80 next time. They were right when they said that getting the less expensive one did not mean you would suffer in quality, it just means a different set of dishes. It was definitely a memorable eating experience. The waitstaff was extremely courteous and friendly, the decor was indeed interesting (see and we felt like we had all the time in the world to enjoy the food and eat. I would definitely recommend trying it if at all possible location and price-wise.

The omakase is quite expensive, but there is also a full a la carte menu. Glancing at the prices and from what I had read previously, it is entirely possible to have a great and fulfilling $30 meal and walk out satisfied. They have sushi, sashimi, udon, and a bunch of other stuff you can see at the website menu.

The omakase price points are $80, $100, and $120. I hear that you can actually get it to be as high as $600 and you'll get something insanely excellent, but I can't really imagine a $600 meal for one person. That crosses the line into complete nutcase for me.

I used the word "definitely" too many times in this review. Definitely. Upon rereading, I also realized that I enjoyed the last dessert more than I let on in the review. The slight warmth and softness of the cake with the cold slippery richness of the ice cream, the lightly gritty fruitiness of the pear sauce, and the faintly crunchy nuts combined into a dish where no single flavor or texture overwhelmed you or too over the dish.

The dishes were big enough that you really got to fully taste and appreciate what they were doing for each dish, yet small enough that you didn't grow tired of it, leaving you well-satisfied at the end of the meal, rather than so full you want to pop. Two thumbs up.

Oh, the other thing is that they will ask you if you've been there before, and make sure that your omakase experience is totally different every time. So if I go back tomorrow (yeah, I wish I could afford it) I will have an entirely different meal.

Of all the supposedly highly rated restaurants we've been to, this probably lived up to its reputation the most.

Morimoto, Part 1: Seppo's review

Went to Iron Chef Morimoto's restaurant tonight. Great stuff, and if you ever get the chance, I'd recommend the $80 Omakase (tasting menu). While the $120 one had some impressive stuff, including my personal favorite dish of the night (hot oil seared hotate (scallop) sashimi), the $80 had, IMO, a more accessible, and in some cases, better selection of items.

* Yellowtail tartare - hamachi sashimi, with some garlic, shallots, sesame oil, topped with caviar, in a soy-yuzu sauce. I believe the shallots were deep fried, and lent a sort of bizarre, but very pleasant contrast of texture. Excellent.

* Hot Oil-seared Hirame sashimi - a really quickly seared-in-hot-oil hirame sashimi - it was very lightly cooked, but the oil and some sort of other sauces and spices made it really extraordinary - probably by second favorite thing of the night, next to the $120 version of this dish, which was the scallop thing. Somehow, the scallop dish had the perfect marriage of flavors - eating it was like eating soft, but very sincere applause.

* Seared Tuna salad - a small salad of microgreens, with several slices of seared tuna, with a soy-yuzu sauce, but the soy-yuzu sauce was quite different, and with some grated onion/radish, it had the perfect amount of "kick" to complement the tuna, which was seared *perfectly*.

* Citrus Papaya Sorbet - if the waitress hadn't written papaya in the description she left, I would never have guessed - I'd have guessed tangerine/mango. It had a texture that was much more like ice cream than sorbet - the finest ice crystals I'd had in a sorbet, and an excellent balance of tart and sweet.

* Rock Shrimp Tempura - much like the spicy lobster handroll at Angelfish, if you've ever had it. Basically deep fried shrimp in a slightly creamy, slightly spicy sauce, served with a couple leaves of endive, which were used to scoop up the shrimp.

* Black miso-crusted cod, with foie gras - the first time I've ever had foie gras - not something I'd eat, due to the unethical nature of it, but since it was there, I figured I'd eat it. Very ... rich - buttery, meaty, and basically like a "meat" flavor that just melts in your mouth. Good stuff, but fortunately, not compelling enough that I feel determined to have more. The cod was excellent, with crispy skin, and a slightly sweet sauce that really complemented the flaky white meat. Some sort of balsamic sauce finished it off.

* Sushi - relatively run-of-the-mill sushi - to be honest, everything (with the exception, probably, of eingy's salmon) was outdone by Angelfish, our favorite sushi joint in the Bay Area.

* Chocolate something-or-anothers with a pear sauce, and a white miso ice cream - the ice cream was phenomenal, with a taste I'd never have associated with miso of any sort. Yet, given that it was a white miso ice cream, if you searched for recognizable flavors, they were there, but very subtle. Interesting stuff. There were also some candied nuts, which were good. The chocolate cake was rich, but the highlight of the night was definitely the other courses.

Overall, I'd definitely do the $80 omakase every time I'm out in Philly. While definitely on the expensive side, since I'm not out in Philly very often, I'd go out of my way for a meal of this quality, at this price. Personally, the $80 trumps the $120 omakase in terms of value, and probably for me, even flavor.

I wasn't sure I'd either be able to appreciate the flavors, or that I'd be constantly comparing it to Angelfish - but though the sushi didn't hold up in comparison, everything else was such a novel and very well suited combination of flavors, it was beyond comparison to anything else I've ever eaten. The hot-oil seared sashimi (both the scallops and the yellowtail) were *phenomenal*, I'd go back just for those dishes alone.

The only thing that would have made it better was if Morimoto himself was actually there, but all in all, a great, great meal.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, June 19, 2005



Made ravioli from scratch yesterday. Prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, parmesan, basil, and sun-dried tomatoes. Good stuff - not quite right, but not bad, either. Basically, the first time I made these, ages ago, I rolled out the dough to the thinnest setting on the pasta machine. This time, I went to the second-thinnest. That proved to be less desireable than the thinnest setting, alas. Slightly too thick, which made them somewhat chewy. The stuffing was pretty good, and after a quick pan-fry in butter, with a couple cherry tomatoes and some julienned basil, and some olive oil, all was well. We ended up making a crapload of them - probably double what we actually needed, which was good.

Also, I realized I really don't have a clue how to get the dough hook properly working a dough - maybe I tried to make too much dough in one go yesterday, but the hook basically got balled up with dough, then the dough (as far as I can tell) just went round and round on the hook, without getting kneaded at all. After all the flour was incorporated in the mixer, I kneaded the rest by hand. Ended up taking about 15 minutes, but was a pain in the butt.

Other'n that, no real complaints. Oh - one more - the dough recipe from the Naked Chef had two options - regular, or quick - I chose "quick" but next time, I'm going for the regular - the quick dough tasted a touch too eggy.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Rice pudding

Yes, it was tasty. Yes, it was smooth. Yes, it was rich. But I have no idea if I will ever make this particular rice pudding recipe again because it took over an hour of cooking time, not even including the prep time. Oh, who am I kidding, of course I will. The dish was Strawberry Risotto-style pudding or something like that, and consisted of two parts: the strawberry sauce and the rice pudding. The original recipe called for cooking the strawberries first, but in order to save time, I recommend that you start the rice pudding first, so that you can prep and cook the strawberries in parallel and save a teeny amount of time.

The rice pudding:
  • 1 1/4 cup Arborio rice
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 1 gallon milk (yes, a gallon, and use full fat, you Scrooge)
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
  • zest of one lemon (no pith!)
  • 1 cup sugar
Use a big-assed saucepan, or a pot if you don't have one that will hold a gallon of milk and more. You are gonna end up using all of it at once, so don't think you can trickle some in at a time like you do with regular risotto.

Bring the water to a boil and add the Arborio rice. Keep boiling and stir until the water is almost all gone. Lower the heat to medium and add everything else except the sugar.

This is where the original recipe lies. The original recipe claims that the milk will thicken in about 20 minutes under medium heat. Lies! Lies! I weep. I shred my shirt. I gnash my teeth. My impression is that the only way this is possible is if the milk was pre-heated in a separate pan while you were doing something else. I mean, I haven't done the math, but I believe that if I did, it will clearly show that it is simply not possible to bring a gallon of milk from refrigeration temperature to steaming/simmering in 20 minutes. Nyet! Non!

Anyway, it took us about 1 full hour or more, and we even cheated and blasted the milk at high for a while (prob about the second half of the hour), even though we knew it could scorch the milk and make it taste funny. I think that maybe the right thing to do is to preheat the milk before starting with the rice.

Ok, so you are supposed to frequently stir the rice/milk mixture throughout this process, which means that you are probably going to have yoked arms afterwards, so we all come out winners. At some point, the milk will seem thicker. As far as volume of liquid, I believe it had reduced to roughly 4/5 (or a tiny bit more?) when it achieved this Holy Grail state. At this point, stir in the sugar, kill the heat, and stir. We cheated here and kept it on the fire a bit longer. Eh.

Meanwhile, while you were growing weary of stirring, you should have prepared the strawberry thingy.

The strawberry sauce:
  • 1 quart strawberries, rinsed and hulled
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1/2 cup sugar
Mix it all up in a small-to-medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until strawberries are soft. Remove from heat and gently mash or smoosh or whatever. Sneak a teaspoonful and revel in the tasty.

Both things should be cooled until... cool. Then swirl some sauce on the rice pudding and eat. If you are fancy, you will layer the two things in pretty clear cups/glasses (not to be confused with eyeglasses, not to mention athletic/bra cups).

Seppo and I made this for a Southwest-themed potluck at Becky and Alan's place on Sunday. I forget what all were there, but there were at least some awesome guac and tender chicken enchiladas. A good bunch of people showed up, so we sat around and chatted and ended the evening with a hysterical game of "Talk Show". I love that game. The person who supposedly knew the least about any of us kicked all of our sorry asses.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Aloo Gobi

I made Aloo Gobi two nights ago, for the first time. If you don't know what it is, it's an Indian dish that's made from potatoes and cauliflower (apparently, the name is literally, potato cauliflower, or vice versa). Basically, it's potatoes, cauliflower, tomatoes, onion, garlic, ginger, and various spices (cardamom, cumin, cloves, fennel, and cinnamon, I think, were the big ones, with turmeric for the ridiculous yellow). Turned out ok - a little bland, but the right notes were there. I kinda half-assed it, because we a.) didn't have a reliable recipe, and b.) were missing cilantro, which is a pretty strong note in the final garnish.

I ended up making the "Garam Masala," which was the spice mixture that contained most of the spices by toasting whole spices, then blitzing them in the coffee grinder (we just don't drink enough coffee to keep this as a coffee grinder, whereas we *do* grind enough spices to have a spice grinder). I couldn't really figure out whether this was a "right" recipe for Garam Masala, though, because the only two recipes I could find (didn't want to buy a premixed thing at the store) had wildly different contents, and neither one was from a really reputable source ( or would be the ones I'd trust).

Anyhow, it stewed for a bit, and served it with some rice. Ended up ok, but really like a watered down, less-intense version of what it should have been. We had some Aloo Gobi from a local Indian restaurant/Irish Pub that delivers a week or so ago, and that tasted great, but was swimming in oil. There has to be some sort of marginally less deadly compromise with a similar intensity of flavor. Gotta work on that.