A little over six weeks ago, the famously humble Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto unveiled his first West Coast beauty in wine country, Morimoto Napa. Like some other highly anticipated recent additions to the Bay Area, his place filled up with reservations weeks before opening -- an impressive feat considering the nascent state of the Napa waterfront market. But that's no indication the Iron Chef's playful Japanese-inspired contribution to the dining scene will survive the fury of local criticism. Here in Good News/Bad News, we'll provide an indication of what's to come, based on the opinions and ideas circulating amongst the pros and not-so-pros. Feel free to add your thoughts to the mix, here in the comments or over the EaterWire.
The Good News: Bauer just comes right out and blogs: "There’s a lot to love about Morimoto in Napa, especially if the celebrity chef is presiding over his impressive kitchen. Masaharu Morimoto’s Angry Chicken is plump, moist and tastes like a cross between Mexico and India, served with a Japanese sensibility." And Virginia Miller has a positive experience overall as well: "Despite the celebrity chef status of the one and only Masaharu Morimoto (yes, I love the original Iron Chef), and the high price tag, his brand new Morimoto Napa restaurant is an experience and a welcome addition to Wine Country. [ISSF, Perfect Spot]
The Just OK News: GraceAnn hints at the week points: "When it comes to the food, all I can is that when Morimoto is good he is very good; and when he's not it's the fusion of bold flavors that mask the naturally yummy food." And No Salad As A Meal would add: "Each [dish] is like a theme park attraction. But occasionally, fuss overpowers food and froufrou takes over flavor." [Dining Around, NSAM]
The Scene News - Yelper Bruce B. isn't feeling it: "The dining experience was, odd. It's a mix of very casual d'bags interloping with overdressed asian people. The music is loud, the people are loud. Probably due to the bar and the loungey-area within the dining space." No Salad offers a less emotional account: "As you explore the huge space, peruse the long menu, you can can’t help but feel a slight resemblance to a Vegas restaurant. A franchise designed to carry the chef’s name and work flawlessly like a well-oiled machine. But at least here the chef is in." [Yelp, NSAM]
The Lobster News: There's some agreement happening on the lobster dish. Ms. Miller has this to say: Whole Roasted Lobster “Espice” ($35) had its flaws...It was over-spiced but the saving grace was a divine, whipped lemon creme fraiche, contrasting the blackened spice aspect with airy tart." And GraceAnn Walden concurs: "I didn't particularly like the highly spiced [sic] lobster, but after you dipped it into the crème fraiche - a light bulb came on." [Perfect Spot, Dining Around]
The Morimoto News: Chowhounder gmk1322 actually spoke to the Iron Chef: "I got to meet Morimoto and chat with him for a few, he is a nice guy and I hope to try some of the places back east as well!" But No Salad reveals others aren't so lucky: "A wide hallway takes you pass the open kitchen where Morimoto stands busily expediting the dishes. Behind him, a lineup of groupies with their cell phone cameras ready for a glimpse of the Iron Chef’s face. But he rarely turns, the man is there to work and there’s no time to smile for the crowd." [Chowhound, NSAM]
The Omokase News: Chowhound's a geek was underwhelmed by the tasting menu: "Unless prompted, little or no explanation was provided for the dishes when served...I can understand the lack of full recall in the early stages of an opening, but the idea that dropping a dish without explanation is ridiculous on a tasting menu." The innkeepers of Napa Old World Inn "thought the omakase menu was stellar-- in fact, compared to other local restaurants (La Toque, REDD, French Laundry), with the wine/sake pairing, at $155, it was a bargain-- esp for the level of quality and the amazing knowledge that the servers had of the different menu items. We asked a *lot* of questions about the food (part of the fun for us!), and were very impressed by the answers." [Chowhound, Chowhound]
The $$$ News: Yelper David G. felt he got his money's worth: "Outstanding!!!...Priced accordingly. $300 for two including tip...Well worth it in terms of food and service, but not a once a week spot." While Koa K. would beg to differ: "It's all hype...Presentation is great. Considering the menu price, the portions are quite small and disappointing."
There you have it: ups, downs and in-betweens. As always, we're standing by for your additional words of wisdom.
Morimoto caught on camera. [Photo: Yelp/Genevieve Y.]