Morimoto NYC: An Oft-Sidetracked Recollection
of My Expedition to Meet an Iron Chef
Peter Tatara - June 19, 2006
Growing up, there was nothing I liked more than pouring an entire box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch into a bowl, drowning it in chocolate milk, and covering the thing with a scoop or twelve of French Vanilla ice cream. I was fat as a child. No, fatter than that. Still fatter. As I entered high school, I topped out at just over 200 pounds. Eventually, after discovering the opposite sex, I shed the weight, and while I still see an obese pig in the mirror, I'm told I'm now rather underweight.
I liked and I still like food. More than that, I like to cook food. While I don't make French Vanilla Chocolate Cinnamon Toast Crunch or -- another childhood favorite -- Taco Ravioli Pizza anymore, I invest great energy in and take great joy out of making stuff in the kitchen. I can't say when I got serious about cooking, if it stems from my youthful rotundity, if it's an edible evolution of my love of Legos, or if it's something different altogether, but what I can say is that I like to cook.
Despite all this, I lack a single cook book. (In the interest of honesty, I have been given several cook books as gifts, but they all sit unread up on a kitchen shelf. Much like the fake degrees decorating the office of the shady dentist down the street, they give folks a false sense of security. Seriously, this dentist is shady. What kind of professional's waiting room is populated by a half dozen lawn chairs. And, not only are they lawn chairs, but they don't even match.) Culinarily, I'm adventurous. Each time I fire up the stove, it's uncharted territory. No recipes. No measuring cups. No two meals are the same. Not every time I've enter the kitchen has the result been something I'm proud of, but I've received some critical acclaim. My girlfriend likes my cooking.
Delicious, no? After a youth where the fairer of the species wouldn't so much as look in my cardinal direction because my girth made me look rather not unlike a Hippopotamus amphibius, I've turned the tables, using my familiarity with food to lure a woman into a relationship.
Now, you may be asking where all this is going, but let us look some of the pieces we can gather from the above intricately-worded introduction. 1) I like to cook. 2) I, technically, don't know how to cook. 3) I like girls. What can we deduce here? Well, from points 1 and 2, you may be thinking I'm an Iron Chef fan. And I am. Frankly, I hadn't mentioned it because I thought it would be a given. Expanding on this, what do you get when you add in point 3? That's right, a night out with my girlfriend at Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto's New York City restaurant, the aptly named Morimoto.
My girlfriend currently lives in Boston, and I live in New York City. While this is all fine and good, there are some things, given the distance, we just can't do. No, not just that. There are other things, too. Name one? Cooking. That's right, cooking. With us living in different states, I can't cook for her, and she can't eat my cooking. But, yeah, there is also that.
Of course, my girl likes to be wined and dined. She's a princess, and I can't just call her up and say "Want to come to NYC this weekend so I can cook for you and then we can make out?" No, it's an intricate game, and I've got to entice her to cross state lines with some exotic adventure so we can make out, and thinking about it one day, I pondered why I couldn't enjoy the exotic adventure too, instead of typically just sitting back with glazed eyes, watching the clock until it was time to make out.
Thusly, I proposed to my girlfriend a night out at Iron Chef Morimoto's restaurant.
She accepted, booked a ticket, and would Friday be out the door.
Now, all I had to do was get us seats in Morimoto -- which, according to reviews, was impossible. "Bah," I said. I promptly placed a call, only to learn there was a four-week waiting list (which wasn't good as Friday was like three days away) but through sheer cunning (or dumb luck) I was able to secure the only open table in the house on Friday night. "Isn't 5 PM kinda early?" my girlfriend asked. "Bah," I said.
And so, come Friday evening, my girlfriend and I got off at the nearest subway stop to Morimoto. It was a pretty trendy neighborhood. And then we started to walk. And walk. And walk. The hip cafes turned into garages. The garages turned into boarded up warehouses. And, there, in a darkened spot beneath some raised train tracks, was Morimoto. I feared a bit for my life. Was this really Morimoto? Was I going to get shot? Was my girlfriend going to be sold into a life of white slavery overseas? But, steeling myself, I entered -- with my girlfriend positioned as a shield to catch any bullets. No bullets came. Neither was she abducted to live out the rest of her days servicing pirates, whalers, and drug cartel kingpins somewhere in the South Pacific. Nope, instead, passing through a heavy red noren and sliding (bulletproof?) glass doors, we came to a woman in black beside a touch-screen. She asked our names, tapped her screen, and directed us in.
Moving into the restaurant proper, it was as if we had been swallowed up by a whale. It was massive and white, and all its walls rippled with light. Three levels of seating surrounded a bright, open kitchen where, against the restaurant's elegant, minimalistic decor, the kitchen shone brilliantly, ablaze with vivid splashes of red, orange, and gold. My girlfriend and I, at our table, sat for a moment, absorbing the cool air and thin, blue light. All around us were young couples laughing, drinking, and dining. The men wore designer glasses with suits that matched, their hair coyly unkempt. The women were in glass slippers and translucent paper dresses. I felt it was spectacular. My girlfriend thought we were going to get kicked out.
When our waitress, Krista, arrived, she presented us with an assortment of menus and ran through the night's specials. My girlfriend immediately gravitated toward the alcohol list, and I said a silent "thank you" to Allah, Vishnu, and Baby Jesus. She ordered the moderately girlie Sunflower; I countered with the extremely feminine Autumn Leaf. Our drinks came quickly, my girlfriend's a tart mixture of fruit juice and vodka and mine a glass of alcoholic chocolate milk completed by a ring of graham cracker crumbs around the lip. I didn't care for hers, and she really didn't like mine, but we were both very content with our own drinks.
Moving on to solid food, we started with the Kappa Maki and Tamago Sushi. With some liquor in her system, my girlfriend was a little less nervous about us being thrown onto the street and began to enjoy herself. This was, of course, until I ruined everything. We were in a restaurant owned by Iron Chef Morimoto, which was in itself sensational, but as I gazed into the kitchen, I almost choked on my Autumn Leaf. Not only were we in Iron Chef Morimoto's restaurant, but Iron Chef Morimoto was in the kitchen. Making our Kappa Maki and Tamago Sushi.
The excitement shut down the language portion of my brain, and I was thus only able to explain my discovery to my girlfriend through pantomime and a series of frantic grunts. Her response was only a roll of her eyes. She never really followed Iron Chef. I, meanwhile, have seen every episode and even own a(n unread) copy of the Official Iron Chef Cookbook autographed by Masaharu Morimoto -- the man now making us sushi. And it was was the most delicious, overpriced sushi I ever ate. And I was happy to pay every penny. The Kappa Maki was intricately minute and playfully crisp. The Tamago Sushi was soft, sweet, salty, and cut into perfect little triangles mathematically positioned about the plate.
Coming to the main course, I wanted my girlfriend to get the buoyantly named Duck, Duck, Duck or Angry Chicken, but she decided to go with the Chicken Ramen Soup while I took on the Chef's Udon. The Chicken Ramen Soup, coming in a bowl big enough to drown my girlfriend, was a fusion of traditional American and Japanese cuisines, mixing the recipe for good old chicken noodle soup with ramen noodles and a distinctively Japanese presentation. The Chef's Udon, meanwhile, consisted of three unique noodle dishes topped with ginger, sesame, scallion, and shiso inside a large iced bowl with a flowering plant growing out the middle. My girlfriend dove directly into her meal while it took me some time to properly analyze mine. After navigating my way through the plant, the udon was magnificent.
After my girlfriend excused herself to freshen up, I ordered our desert, the Tofu Cheesecake. She hates tofu. When my girlfriend returned, she brought with her breathless tales of Morimoto's restrooms, equipped with the most advanced toilets Tokyo has to offer. Having to see this for myself, I paid a trip to the stainless steel men's room where a heated, robotic toilet in a vast, mirrored stall was happy to receive my waste. I didn't need to use the facilities, but I sat down anyway and went up and down the row of buttons on the toilet's command console. It was like a spaceship.
Back at our table, I found my girlfriend devouring the Tofu Cheesecake. When she learned everything on the plate was made of soy, after a flash of her middle finger, she kept on eating. It was that good.
Once our dessert plate was polished clean, we sat back, full and content, and as we did, Iron Chef Morimoto passed by, checking to see if all his patrons' dishes were to their liking. They were. They were. I somehow maintained my composure, and with a tip of my hat and a bow of my head to the Iron Chef, my meal at Morimoto was complete.
Located at 80 10th Avenue in New York City, Morimoto is a trendy, elegant, sophisticated space. And more importantly, once you move on past the atmosphere, the food lives up to the restaurant's namesake. With dishes designed, overseen, and even prepared by the Iron Chef himself, Morimoto is a stunning, spectacular culinary odyssey. And I, for one, am sure to make many repeat visits to this Kitchen Stadium.
Wasn't that an adorable ending? I sure thought it was; however, beyond the cutsie conclusion, Morimoto still stands up strong as a genuinely unique epicurean experience. The bill may be a bit rich, but considering it's the price of admission to the court of a celebrity chef, I handed over my credit card at the end of the meal with gusto and left Krista the largest tip in my entire history of leaving tips.
Following our trip to Morimoto, my girlfriend and I returned to my apartment where we made out. The next morning, I served her a spaghetti omelet.