Masaharu Morimoto was born in Hiroshima in 1955. He opened his first restaurant in that city in 1980, and sold it in 1985 to move to the U.S. He made his bones as the head chef at Nobu in Manhattan, and was a frequent contestant---and winner---on the TV show Iron Chef. Morimoto’s first American restaurant appeared in Philadelphia in 2001, and seven more have opened since.
Morimoto Napa is located in the city of Napa, which has undergone a startling renaissance over the past few years. On entering the restaurant you walk down a long corridor which resembles a high-end Oriental gift shop, filled with branded memorabilia. This gives way to a glassed-in wine cellar and ultimately to the sushi bar, open kitchen and modern dining room, with concrete floors and a décor of “warm ash tones.”
Ensconced at a terrace table overlooking the Napa River, I was able to sample a number of dishes that revealed what makes Morimoto so interesting. Yellowtail “pastrami” was perfectly cured and seasoned, garnished with candied olives and gin crème fraiche. Miso soup was infused with tiny, briny Manila clams---a nice touch. Spicy King Crab was beautifully fresh, split open and dressed with a peppery aioli. The biggest surprise among the appetizers was the culinary cliché known as Crab Rangoon: small rice balls arrived at the table, delicately fried, filled with fresh crabmeat dressed in a slightly spicy mayonnaise.
While there are entrees ranging from crispy whole fish to rack of lamb, and a selection of 45-day aged steaks from New York’s Snake River Farms, you really come to Morimoto for sushi. There are dozens of varieties of fish, a combination of local varieties and exotic specialty imports, pristine and beautifully presented. Wash it down with a stunning selection of sake and shochu, available by the glass, bottle, or in flights for sampling. There’s an impressive wine selection as well, with nearly fifty choices by the glass---all domestic, of course, but who can complain given the location?
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic spirits: An Intoxicating History, which will be published in November by Lyons Press; for more information, go to www.iconicspirits.net.