Last week, I needed to rendezvous with my inlaws who live up north and we elected to meet in Napa, which is conveniently in between and full of delicious restaurants to explore. We decided to meet at Morimoto Napa, unable to resist the lure of sampling Iron chef Morimoto’s modern Japanese cuisine. From the office in Walnut Creek, it was a quick 30 minute drive to Napa’s riverfront area, where the restaurant is located. It is his first west coast venture, the sixth in his expanding restaurant empire. The Iron chef’s cuisine is characterized by Japanese flavor combinations and aromas, while the preparation infuses multicultural influences such as traditional Chinese spices and simple Italian ingredients, presented in a refined French style.
The main lobby area has cases full of fish displayed on one end and shelves filled with interesting treasures to purchase. It’s cavernously dramatic and sleekly modern but warm and inviting at the same time. The overhead light fixtures looked like gigantic versions of the bamboo whisks that are used to whip up matcha in the Japanese tea ceremony. There are lots of comely items like this exquisite bonsai to delight the eye. I was led to the back past the kitchen where I did not see the famous Iron Chef, alas.
Since it was a sunny day, we sat outside with a view of a river. It was a bit windy, but the patio was sheltered and we were hooked up with our own heater.
Our server suggested the Tuna Pizza ($18), which is the Ironchef’s signature dish. A flour tortilla brushed with a savory teriyaki sauce then baked to a crisp is layered with slices of ahi tuna and cut cut into wedges, pizza style. Each slice is topped with paper thin slices of jalapeno, tomato olives, drizzled with anchovy aioli and sprinkled with micro-cilantro.
The Wagyu Carpaccio ($21) was served thinly sliced and topped with microscopic cubes of yuzu, ginger and sweet garlic. Our server said that hot oil is poured over the thin slices, which lightly cooks it, adding texture. Mank noted the distinct aroma of seared fatty meat, which added an interesting mental adjustment while the tender slices of raw meat seemed to practically melt in your mouth.
I had to try the Fois Gras filled Takoyaki ($17) Takoyaki translates to grilled octopus, but really is a dumpling that is a popular street food in Japan. They are made from a savory batter mixed with diced octopus, tempura scraps (tenkasu), pickled ginger, and green onion that is poured into special pans that require vigilance and a masterful technique of continuously turning the patties to form the spherical shape. They are drizzled with a sauce perigord and topped with a blob of Japanese Kewpie Mayonnaise then speared with bamboo skewers to eat with.
Inside we found a tiny nugget of foie gras, along with savory rice and bits of pickled ginger. It was an unusual and delicious treat.
My mother used to make chawanmushi for us when we were feeling under the weather, so this is solid comfort food in my book. Ironchef Morimoto’s version is a decadent Foie Gras Chawanmushi ($16) served in a elegant little cup with a tiny ball of wasabi which adds bursts of flavor and clears the nasal passage.
The savory custard is garnished with slices of duck and a thick flavorful sauce poured over top then sprinkled with minced chives. The egg custard has an ethereal silky texture that dissolves in your mouth bathing your tastebuds with a luxurious umami sensation. As we finished, another was brought to our table. An unexpected gift, an unanswered prayer? We were allowed to continue our enjoyment of the decadently rich dish.
Our server recommended the Kampyo Maki ($5), which is made from strips of dried gourd that has been simmered in flavorful dashi. It is a familiar taste, a taste of home. My Grandma Nag (that is a shortened version of Nagatoishi) used to make these for special occasions. The kampyo was pristine. The texture is dense and has a satisfying sweet and savory flavor that is balanced with the delicate taste of the sea from the nori.
We shared a half order of the Uni Carbonara ($18), a tangle of luscious udon noodles bathed in a rich creamy sauce that was infused with the flavor of smoked bacon, lemon zest, and crispy shallots. It was topped with a piece of urchin and a raw quail egg hidden under a pile of tiny strips of dried seaweed.
CDR had fear and trepidation of the urchin which looked like a pumpkin colored tip of someone’s tongue nestled in a bed of noodles… Our server advised us to mix the dish well and we dug in, the flavor of the uni was really non-evident, but my tastebuds were sighing with pleasure from the rich creamy sauce and chewy bites of bacon.
CDR tried to order a piece of giant octopus flown in from Northern Japan called Mizudako Nigiri which sounded very intriguing, but they were all out, so she had to settle for a regular Tako Nigiri ($5). All of the sushi is priced per piece!
Here is a small assortment: Ika with Shiso ($4), Amberjack Kampachi ($7) and Salmon Sake ($4). Mank noted the rice was very good. Our server said that the rice is polished fresh daily and is prepared using the exact precision of the Japanese Iron Chef’s instructions no doubt.
The salmon looks so luscious! Mank and CDR repeatedly vowed to return for more of the sushi and sashimi. Must save up the piggy bank for this next venture.
We shared the Tofu Cheesecake ($12) topped with poached quince, a tiny bowl of maple syrup and a scoop of ice cream topped with candied pecans.
The Fried Banana with Ice Cream ($12) turned out to be chocolate cake filled with ice cream dipped in batter and rolled in rice crispies, then fried. This is served over caramelized bananas along with a blob of delicious caramel sauce and a scoop of rich and creamy chocolate that was something in between mousse and pudding.
An unusual and fun dessert.
The bar was dominated by gnarled twisty old grape vines that were illuminated from below. The restaurant was beginning to fill up and it seemed to buzz with anticipation. I enjoyed everything we ordered and my only complaint was that I thought that I had ordered the pork belly congee, but it never appeared on either the table or the bill, so I will have to wait til the next visit.
Lunch: Wed-Sun: 11:30- 2:30pm
Dinner: Daily(Dining Room): 5:00pm – 10:00pm
Sun-Thurs, 5:00 – 11:00
Fri-Sat (Lounge): 5:00pm – 12:00am
Sun-Thurs, 5:00-1:00am Fri-Sat