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Food Travel - Morimoto Philadelphia

Culinary travel influences how I view locally produced food in Spokane, and what I create in my own home regularly. One of my very favorite parts of travel is what I bring back with me. In my case, I usually come back with a signed cookbook. This was not one of those times, because I'd likely not be able to produce the incredibly skilled and sophisticated dishes I had here, and that was a delightful realization.

The most memorable meal of my life to date was not just due to the nostalgia factor of the time I first fell in love with the expertise involved in creating works of edible art, but in the unbelievably rich and dynamic tastes themselves. If you want a really life-changing experience, look no further than the unmatched Iron Chef Morimoto.

When I walked the streets of Philadelphia trying to find his namesake restaurant, Morimoto, we passed it. Twice. The elusive nature of the building itself was replicated in my ability to discern ingredient from exotic, beautifully curated ingredient when we finally were served our first plate of food. I think the hunt made it slightly more enjoyable.

It was an Iron Chef dream come true.

The chilled, perfectly fresh tuna tartare with a crunchy element of puffed rice that was perfectly light and crispy and the most delicate dollop of caviar and gold leaf was a perfect appetizer in every sense of the word. The lovely saltiness of the roe, the complexity of the perfectly prepared fish, and the surprise of the texture was my dream realized in a single bite.

Next out was a potato vichyssoise with uni. The soup was delicious, and the delicate flavor of the uni definitely enhanced this dish. Although not an uni fan as a general rule, I thought this use was thoughtful and unexpected.

Quick seared SnapJack tuna sashimi, lobster aioli, heirloom tomato and delightfully crispy bonito flakes. Absolutely stunning. The aioli was so rich and delicious, and the tomato added a lovely brightness.

Next was the sashimi assortment, beautifully plated and artfully selected. Each had a unique treatment and marinade. I particularly liked the lemon zest with the hamachi (bottom left).

Tofu has never tasted so good.

This was my singular most memorable and delicious bite of the entire meal, and I'm not categorically a tofu super fan. It was just that good. The dashi that it was marinated in was so insanely delicious I could have bathed in it, and the tiny piece of Japanese plum on top provided a delicate contrast.

Then, I ate this little guy. Whole. That tripped out my normally adventurous palate, but it was great! Crunchy and tasted like crabby popcorn. I'd do it again.

The nigiri was perfection. Buttery, fresh and on point. Simple and delicious. The shiso leaf was a nice touch. Not real wasabi, which was somewhat disappointing, but still, great quality fish doesn't really need any. Pristine.

Compressed plum, seaweed, shiso and foie gras with yuzu foam. Not memorable, but very good. The foie was blackened a little more than I'd like, and the composition of flavor was so subtle that it was largely lost on me. I think the plum was intended to be slightly more acidic, and the dish would have benefitted from it.

This was the one and only problem dish. I absolutely loved the presentation and the dashi with the lobster claw, but the tail portion was not cleaned properly. It muddied the whole dish. It was so bad I had to send it back, and when asked if I wanted it prepared again, I declined. It had just ruined my appetite. I opted for another couple pieces of Otoro instead, which was the preferred alternative.

The palate cleanser was a cucumber and lemongrass broth with a tiny shiso leaf suspended in gelatin. Very special presentation and a delicately balanced, delightfully refreshing mouthful.

The Wagyu with peanut sauce, roasted vegetables and crispy peanuts... OH MY GOD. I could have eaten this all night. Peanut sauce and beef should get married already. This particular pairing enhanced the butteriness of the steak and the unctuous richness of its breed.

A lovely finale was the blueberry cheesecake and lavender "bubbles" - spherical gel scented with lavender. The green tea crumble crust, blueberry and green tea sauces had a yin and yang quality. The earthy yet sweet tea sauce and the bright, tart blueberries kept things interesting as you switched back and forth.

Overall, I give my Morimoto experience an 8 out of 10. Despite the slight snafu with the uncleaned lobster in the dashi, it was a strong contender as one of the best meals of my life. The ten year old girl watching Iron Chef in me was absolutely thrilled that her dreams didn't die here.

The only slightly comparable restaurant in town for me is Izumi Sushi. I find that their knife skills , super fresh fish and deftly seasoned rice on their nigiri sushi gives me an even greater longing for this truly special meal. It will, however, tide me over until the next time I can visit this powerhouse of elevated Japanese cuisine.

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