In the Iron Chef's Domain
If not for a shoulder injury many moons ago, we might be watching Masaharu Morimoto
swinging a baseball bat instead of deftly slicing sashimi. As a foodie, I'm thankful that he took
the path of sushi and sashimi instead of besubooru. Morimoto opened his Hawaii outpost about
17 months ago and our first visit was about a month after the grand opening. I originally
planned on writing a column after that initial visit but decided to pay another visit to sample
more of his delicacies. As in the case of many of life's plans, life just got in the way and the
second visit was delayed by over a year. I guess I never embraced Nike's slogan "Just do it".
You probably know the story of Masaharu Morimoto and how he ended up a Food Network
icon. Starting with his own restaurant in Hiroshima in 1980 (and selling 5 years later to tour the
US), then a stint as the Executive Chef at the Sony Club and landing the Head Chef position at
Nobu where he was scouted to be the 3rd Japanese Iron Chef in the original series. After the
series ended he left Nobu to start his own venture in Philadelphia which has since expanded to
New Delhi, New York, Tokyo, Florida, Napa Valley and here in the 50th.
The Initial Visit
At our first visit, I wanted to sample traditional Japanese faire (I mean if a Japanese chef can't
hit the target with traditional foods, there's no sense trying the avante garde) so we selected the
$35 sushi sampler along with the Wasabi Fries (for the Mrs) and the Lamb Carpaccio (for me).
The sushi as expected was very good though most of the "secret" is simply procuring the freshest
seafood that's in season. The fries were a pleasant surprise, just enough wasabi to notice but not
so heavy as to clear the sinuses and they remained crisp throughout our meal. The Lamb
Carpaccio was beautifully plated though if I didn't know any better, would assume it was simply
beef carpaccio since it didn't have that characteristic lamb flavor (and it no longer is on the
I also sampled Morimoto's Sake Moriawase sampler which included a Junmai, a Ginjo, a Daiginjo
and a 10 year old aged Sake from the Chef's own label. They were all good but for the $30 cost
(for four 2 ounce servings), I probably would have experienced the same pleasure with a full
bottle of Prosecco or Off-Dry Riesling with my meal for about the same price.
We then moved on to our entrees including a Tempura and Green Tea Soba Combo platter for
the Mrs and the Pork Kakuni (10 hour shoyu braised pork belly) lunch set for me. The tempura
was light and crisp and remained so throughout our meal and as a testament to the chef, the
Mrs consumed the whole thing (she usually peels off the battered parts). My pork kakuni was so
good that it motivated me to create my own (aka as Okinawan Rafute or shoyu pork belly in
We also sampled two desserts starting with the Peanut Butter Fondant which was like eating
peanut butter air with a chocolate cremeaux (the hit of the dish) and peanut butter ice cream.
The salt from the peanut butter helped break the creaminess of the dessert on the palate so as
not to overwhelm the palate. We then moved on to the Tofu Cheesecake with a consistency
between sponge cake and cheesecake served with kuromitsu ice cream or molasses flavored ice
Our Recent Visit
On our recent visit, we decided to sample some of the Iron Chef's unusual creations including
his Toro Tartare which consisted of minced otoro (like negitoro without the negi) plated on a
clear tray and served with soy reduction, sour cream, fresh grated wasabi, minced Maui onion,
guacamole, and mini rice cracker pearls. Eating the otoro with all of the accoutrements provided
a symphony of flavor sensations but it did detract the fine flavor of otoro. I still prefer plain
otoro nigiri sushi, sashimi or negitoro. We also sampled Pineapple Tempura with Iberico Jamon
on Wasabi Tzatziki. This dish really emphasized the Chef's "wild" side since it combined fresh
fruit batter fried Japanese style with Spanish ham on a Greek inspired sauce. This really sounded
like something from Kitchen Stadium but it worked! Sweet and sour from the pineapple with a
crisp exterior then salty savoriness from the Iberico ham and finally herbal creaminess from the
tzatziki sauce. We ordered a few sushi items including two of my favorites - salmon skin roll (as
close to bacon without any pork products) and negihamachi which was the same as negitoro
using fatty yellowtail in place of fatty tuna. However the crème de la crème was the Kanimiso
sushi. I'm sure you all know what the "miso" is in a crab. It's that yellowish-brown semi-solid
mass that ends up in the shell of a crab after you split the top from the bottom. It's also called
crab fat or crab tomalley (roe) but it's actually the equivalent of crab foie gras (crab organs are
a little different than ours so they don't have a distinct liver). This Kanimiso sushi wasn't the
most attractive sushi being a pale shade of greenish-gray (like oxidized guacamole) but the
flavor was out of this world! In fact, the Mrs suggested just ordering a plateful on any future
For our main course, the Mrs selected the Chef's Loco Moto which is a take on the Loco Moco
served at plate lunch establishments throughout the islands. A hamburger patty is placed on
white rice covered in brown gravy and topped with a sunny side egg. Morimoto's version used
sliced Wagyu beef instead of a hamburger patty and this was served with Hayashi rice. The
"gravy" in Hayashi rice is a step above your simple brown gravy as it's enriched with demi-glace.
Therefore the star of the dish is simply the gravy and rice leaving the beef just a supporting role.
The Mrs had an ear-to-ear grin while enjoying her lunch! The lunch set was also served with a
green salad, miso soup and assorted sushi.
I selected the Morimoto Special Mini Burgers - three Wagyu sliders served with cabbage and
pork Kakuni along with a green salad, house made pickles and wasabi fries. While the slider were
cooked a perfect medium rare and were still juicy, they didn't have a pronounced beefy flavor
which you usually find in Wagyu beef - even the hapa Wagyu beef from Snake River or
We ended the meal with the Vanilla Roasted Pineapple with grilled Castella sponge cake on a
pineapple crème and lemongrass ice cream. Very refreshing after several rich dishes and the
perfect palate cleanser to end the meal.
After two visits to Morimoto, I invariably had to compare it to something or someone else.
How 'bout his former boss, Chef Nobu Matsuhisa who also set up shop in Waikiki? After
comparing the establishments of the two biggest celebrity Japanese chefs in the US with foodie
friends, more seemed to prefer Nobu. Having dined at both of their restaurants, the Mrs and I
both prefer the Iron Chef's cuisine. There are many similarities - both obviously serve Japanese
cuisine based dishes with Western touches and the costs are similar ($$$$) and both chefs
garnish certain dishes with the mountain peach, a raspberry -looking sweet-sour miniature red
stone fruit. However while Nobu primarily adds a South American influence to his Japanese
cuisine, Morimoto travels the globe with Hawaiian, Spanish, Greek and Italian flavors to his
nouveau Japanese cuisine. And while Nobu's restaurant is a little more elegant (it's right across
the street from the Grande Dame of Waikiki hotels, the Halekulani), Morimoto is located in the
trendy The Modern Honolulu hotel (formerly known as the Ilikai) and occasionally hosts
Sunday DJ events for the young and hip (NOT me). So while I enjoyed meals at both
establishments, the winner of Kitchen Stadium Battle Gochiso Gourmet's Palate is Iron Chef
Japanese, Masaharu Morimoto. And though you may not have a visit planned to the 50th in
your immediate future, there also is a Morimoto Napa in the heart of Napa town just 90 or so
minutes from The City.
1775 Ala Moana Blvd
Honolulu, HI 96815