Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Morimoto Waikiki in Honolulu

A Tamer Iron Chef Menu
1775 Ala Moana Blvd. (inside the Waikiki Edition Hotel), Honolulu
Ala Moana/Waikiki neighborhoods
PH: 808.943.5900
Open daily, 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Reservations, major credit cards accepted


So here’s my last post from my recent trip to Hawaii, and I saved the best for last as I feature my lunch with my Mom and sister at the elegant Morimoto Waikiki, which as you can guess by the name is the Hawaiian outpost of Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto.

Morimoto Waikiki opened more than a year ago in the Waikiki Edition Hotel, which I knew growing up as the Ilikai Hotel. (The Ilikai still exists but apparently it split and the main part is still called the Ilikai and the other half is known as the Edition.) Even though it has Waikiki in its name, the restaurant is actually at the beginning of Waikiki, closer to the Ala Moana Shopping Center than the tourist center of Waikiki Beach.

Walking into the restaurant is like walking into an ocean spa. The cooling color scheme and contemporary décor gives off a minimalist feel, with splashes of color from two huge colorful images of orchids. At the reception area, you’re greeted with souvenirs for sale, including T-shirts and Morimoto’s cookbooks.

Even though my sister made reservations, the spacious dining room was barely filled for a Saturday. We settled in at our table, and I admired the translucent blue chopsticks at the table.

One of our servers greeted us and explained some of the specials on the menu. But basically he recommended 80 percent of the items on the lunch menu, which to me sounds like a lot to eat for lunch. So we went with our own choices, and there were a lot to choose from, from lunch bento sets to sushi.

I ordered as a starter for my Mom the kakuni, which is the 10-hour pork belly ($16). There were a lot of things that hinted at Chinese cooking, including a rice congee base. My Mom said the pork belly was very tender, and she liked the glaze although she did feel it leaned toward the sweet side.

My sister ordered the hamachi tartar ($22), which she’s had before and wanted me to see the presentation. Basically if you look at the background of the photo, the pinkish slate is actually the hamachi that’s been grounded and spread on the board. You eat it with a scraper, taking off as much as you want. In the front are a variety of condiments, including wasabi, Maui onions, nori paste, sour cream and what looked like rice cracker balls.

I ordered the sashimi Caesar salad ($16) because I needed my greens. The presentation was beautiful with the full leaves of the baby romaine glistening in the creamy dressing and topped with a quail egg. The sashimi (or raw fish slices) were the restaurant’s special sustainable toro tuna, which is farm-raised in Japan. The toro was thick and fatty, and encrusted with black sesame.

Side note: Although the service is friendly, it’s not very intuitive. Only chopsticks are at the table, but I really don’t understand how you’re expected to eat some of the dishes with just chopsticks. For example, I had to ask for a spoon for my Mom to eat the rice congee (a porridge) at the base of her pork belly and I had to ask for a knife to cut my romaine lettuce because they were too big to put in my mouth in one bite.

For our entrees, my Mom got one of the lunch sets, featuring the braised black cod ($22). The elements of the lunch set were pretty basic, including a bowl of miso soup, a side salad, and rice. My Mom said the fish was cooked perfectly and she again liked the glaze, although maybe a bit on the sweet side. (Apparently umami at Morimoto leans toward the sweet.)

My sister got an array of sushi, which came in a beautiful cobalt blue rotund tray that provided a nice contrast to the sushi.

I couldn’t decide what to get for my entrée, but Morimoto had a play on the Hawaiian local favorite called “loco moco,” which is a bowl of rice piled on with a hamburger patty and brown gravy and topped with a fried egg. It’s the surfer’s stamina lunch.

Morimoto’s version is called “loco moto” ($18) and is made with wagyu beef instead of hamburger. I decided to try it to see Morimoto’s creative take on the loco moco, but the only real difference is that he presented the dish’s ingredients in almost a yin-yang design with a sunny side up egg at the center. There wasn’t anything else added to it to take the loco moco to an Iron Chef level.

Still, the wagyu beef slices were tender and delicious, and this was a filling plate of food. The red pickled ginger also helped cut into the heavy beef.

Everything we ate was delicious and elegant, but nothing experimental or super creative you’d expect from an Iron Chef. Morimoto Waikiki is still a beautiful room and during the day the breezy feel and sunshine from the patio give you that island feel with some quality food. It’s definitely raised the bar for fine dining in Honolulu.

Single guy rating: 4.25 stars (High-end Japanese cuisine)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Morimoto Waikiki on Urbanspoon


The Librarian said...

My mother also had the black cod when we had lunch at the Morimoto in Napa. It was great there as well. The other dishes we had were good, but again not as spectacular as I was hoping. But the place itself was very pleasant. Had to try it once!

Claudine said...

I was also curious as to whether you've been to the Napa Morimoto... also curious to see whether dishes also lean on the sweeter side (not my preference) in Napa (perhaps it may also be a Hawaii thing)? I guess I may have to investigate. :)

The Librarian said...

I didn't notice the dishes leaning towards sweetness, which is good because I really don't like sweet. There was a tofu dish that a friend had which was very spicy, unexpected since it wasn't described that way on the menu. Guess you'll just have to go and see for yourself!

Single Guy Ben said...

Librarian, is your mom Chinese too? :) My mom won't eat raw fish at Japanese restaurants.

Claudine, I haven't been to Morimoto Napa, but without a car I rarely head up to wine country any more, so in a way the Waikiki location was the more convenient. Looks like there are a few duplicate menu items between the two. I heard the decor at the Napa one is more dramatic, so interested to check that out along with the food. And it may be true the glazes might be a bit more sweet in Hawaii for the local tastes.

Hungry Dog said...

I'm surprised it wasn't more experimental. That said, everything looks delicious...especially that caesar salad with tuna!

foodhoe said...

I had wanted to try that interesting sashimi paste dish but didn't. What did you think? It looked interesting, but there were other items on the menu that caught my eye. One of my pet peeves is lettuce that needs to be cut up, although I heard some etiquette authority say that means you can eat with your hands? But surely not for congee... That pork belly congee is actually the dish that I tried to order in Napa but it didn't show up at the table. Did you try it? My parents used to rent a condo in the Ilikai years ago for a month in the summer, that brings back memories.

Single Guy Ben said...

Foodhoe, I didn't try my sister's hamachi nor my mom's pork belly. I was happy with my toro and full from my loco moto. But like I said, my Mom and sister enjoyed their dishes.