And then, there are the high-priced restaurants, those whose owners are either celebrities, celebrity chefs or sports personalities. For us regular people, a high-priced restaurant is one that charges $40 a meal and up. And yes, that is per person.
For the past few years, the city of New York has been celebrating fine dining in its numerous restaurants during the Restaurant Week, a bi-annual event that food hounds look forward to. During the event, restaurants offer prix-fixe menus for lunch and dinner at an affordable price of $24.07 for lunch and $35 for dinner. By affordable, we mean way cheaper than the restaurants’ regular price.
This summer’s Restaurant Week started last week, and will end this week. A friend invited me to Morimoto last week and just couple days later, another friend requested my company at the same restaurant. I was so enthralled by what I had a couple of days earlier that I decided to go again. Never mind the $40 plus dining tab.
Morimoto is the eponymous restaurant of Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, located in the bustling meatpacking district of Manhattan, a few blocks away from the Chelsea neighborhood. Diners enter a building through some unassuming red curtains, and once inside, you get transported into a modern and chic place. A wall of glass bottles acts as a centerpiece and adds some edginess to the already elegant place, a stark comparison to the humble and industrial neighborhood.
Morimoto, during the Restaurant Week, offers a three-course prix-fixe lunch with a choice of the house miso soup or mixed-greens salad with kabosu vinaigrette, plus any one of the four entrees [angry chicken, Chef Morimoto’s sushi selection, braised black cod and beef gyudon] and a dessert sampler.
In my first visit, I had the salad and the braised black cod, and ordered extra miso soup, which was served on a huge bowl. Now, hands down, I can say that this was the best braised black cod I’ve ever had in my life. Seriously. I am a big fan of chilean sea bass because I love its buttery consistency and I was pleasantly surprised to get that same melt-in-your-mouth feeling while eating this black cod.
It was so sublime.
Hours after eating this lunch, I was still enjoying the experience of cutting through the soft and flaky flesh of the fish and relishing each bite. The dish was so rich and tasty I had to have rice. So I asked for a small cup, which cost me $5 more on my bill. On regular days, I cross the street from my office on Penn Plaza to this Chinese buffet place which sells meals—a selection of any five of the buffet dishes—for just the same amount.
Going back to the $5 cup of rice, I decided not to compute and just savor the entire experience as a whole. Plus the soup and a small cup of coffee, this lunch totalled to $45, exclusive of tips. Disregarding the bill, I relished my gastronomic experience as priceless.
Aside from my previous experience with the place, there are still three entrees I had to try, and so I confirmed to lunch with another friend at Morimoto again.
There were four of us and as if we planned it, we ordered each of the entrée. The waiter, who did not up sell to us like the previous waitress, said that it was the first time that a table of four ordered all the four entrees. I was happy, I had the opportunity to have a taste of the other two.
I ordered the beef gyudon, which is basically strips of beef sirloin with onions on a bed of steamed white rice. Yes, think Yoshinoya. Morimoto’s had a twist though, with fried egg as its topping. Yes, think bibimbap. And that was exactly what my beef gyudon was, bibimbap-style Yoshinoya beef bowl. The only difference was that it was five times more expensive. Teenie tiny regret, I should have ordered the braised black cod again. Probably next time.
My dining companion who ordered the black cod was ecstatic with her choice, as evidenced by her “Ang sarap!” (Delicious!) and “This is so good” statements peppered into our conversation while she enjoyed every bite. She decided to have the dish in all its richness and opted not to order rice. Good decision.
Our two other dining buddies had the angry chicken and the sushi sampler, which had about seven pieces of various sushi plus six pieces of tuna maki. Our waiter explained that the angry chicken was actually grilled chicken marinated in spicy yogurt and served with fried rice noodles. Why it was called such was beyond us and the waiter. The only thing I remembered the waiter telling us was that this chicken was marinated in a mix of coriander, cumin, cardamom, chile powder, black peppercorn, among other spices.
The one who ordered the angry chicken was happy, the one who had the sushi sampler was not. “I’m disappointed. I‘ve had better sushi,” he quipped.
For regular people like us, dining at Morimoto can be a daunting experience. Just a quick look at the appetizers alone—with price tags ranging from $23 (kobe carpaccio or spicy king crab) to $28 (the house specialty toro tartare, which our first waiter tried to up sell us. An appetizer that was more expensive than the three-course prix-fixe? Maybe next time.)—dining at the Japanese resto will make your heart skip a beat.
Thank goodness for Restaurant Week, we didn’t need to spend a fortune just to taste the masterpiece creations of famed celebrity chefs. Maybe someday, when we get richer, spending $32 for a chirashi rice bowl or $36 on seafood toban yaki wouldn’t be such a big deal.
For now, all we have is the exquisite experience of dining in Chef Morimoto’s restaurant. That should tide us over until next season’s Restaurant Week comes.