It started, and ended with sweet. And in between there were moments of surprise, delight, exclamation, and awe. All delicious. It was probably the best meal I've had all year.
I'm a huge Iron Chef fan, back in the days when the Liberace-looking chairman was host, and the dashing silver-clad Masaharu Morimoto was always one of my favorites. So when he opened a restaurant in Napa two weeks ago, my foodie pals (to be named later, I'm still working on nicknames) and I were sure to snag a reservation.
First order of business? After battling horrible traffic, a cocktail was in order. I scanned the menu and ordered a White Lily.It was perfect. It was a sweet, creamy combination of soju and Calpico, with a refreshing bite of fresh yuzu. It was also seriously one of the best drinks I've ever had.
My favorite part of Iron Chef was always the judging, and I remember listening (and not really believing) to judges' comments like "you could tell this chef was trying to tell us a story through the food." Well, as corny as it sounds, I now understand what that means. Our entire table ordered Morimoto's omakase, or tasting menu ($110 a person). Each and every one of the 7 courses were served strategically, artistically and precisely.
Toro (fatty tuna) tartare came first, cleverly served on a wooden dish resembling a picture frame with a rainbow of condiments - including black nori paste, avocado, rice cracker bits and creme fraiche. This also marked my first time trying a yamamoto, or mountain peach - which was much more tart than a regular peach - somewhere between a raspberry and a cranberry.
Next came seared kampachi, and a version of Italian fondue-like bagna cauda, where pieces of bread, vegetables and meat were dipped in bubbling olive oil and anchovy paste (this was probably the one dish I don't necessarily have to order again, but it was a fun dish to eat nonetheless). Then came a foie gras chawanmushi (an eggy steamed custard) which was covered in a rich, savory consomme and topped with juicy pieces of duck breast. Each and every bite was delicate, decadent, perfect. Hands down, this was my favorite thing I ate all night, if not all year.
We were also treated to a plate of sushi (the hamachi was fresh and melt-in-your-mouth delicious), a palate-cleansing kombu (kelp) "tea" and a version of surf & turf including wagyu beef (cooked to a marbled, medium rare perfection), pork tenderloin in spicy tofu sauce, and spicy lobster paired with a delicious lemon creme fraiche. We also ordered (in addition to the omakase) fig tempura with a pomegranate reduction and peanut butter foie gras sauce. The peanut butter fan in me just had to try it. It didn't disappoint.
Our last course came to the table with just as much excitement as all the other dishes - homemade pistachio ice cream and poached pears topped with a champagne sabayon that made it even more "awesome," to quote one of my dining companions. It was a sweet ending to a special meal.
Even sweeter was the fact that Morimoto himself was there, on the line expediting all the dishes coming from the kitchen. He was too busy to pose for pictures (we asked) but seeing him in person was every bit as thrilling, exciting and memorable, as his food.