Restaurants: Will Iron Chef Morimoto Be A Winner In Downtown Napa?

Sushi and salad chefs at work during the lunch rush.

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ve probably noticed that our food and especially our restaurants are more and more influenced by what we see on TV and view on line. Celebrity chefs are everywhere: starring in TV shows, writing cookbooks, opening restaurants, blogging, shilling lines of prepared food. While the whole media circus aspect of the food business doesn’t interest me much, I admit I was curious when I heard that Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto was opening a flagship restaurant just a few miles up the road in Napa.  I promised myself that I would check it out, and planned to until I looked at the menu where appetizers at dinner run from $15-20, and entrees begin at $23 and top out at $80 for an Australian wagyu beef steak. For $110 you’ll get an omakase tasting menu. A little rich for my blood. However, I noticed that at lunch you can now order a four-part set menu for $25. That I could do, and so with my friends Bob and Frank, I entered the world of superstar chefdom… (more after the jump)

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The $25 set lunch menu. Clockwise from top left: vegetable tempura, miso soup (or salad), 5 or 6 pieces of sushi, a protein-based entree (tofu, fish, chicken beef or pork).

Morimoto Napa sits squarely in an impressive  new riverfront development in downtown Napa.  While the exterior doesn’t reveal much, the interior is awash in upscale restaurant glitz, moderated by the use of  wood, vines and other natural materials. It very much conveys that you have arrived someplace new, exciting and important. Does the food live up to the hype?  For the most part, it does.  I’ve only sampled a tiny portion of the menu, so I’m not pretending to write a full review, but the food I tasted was a cut above even most good Japanese restaurants and the setting and service are decidedly on a higher level. (See Michael Bauer’s review in the San Francisco Chronicle here.) While the menu is very much fish, seafood and meat-centered, I’m confident the skilled chefs here can put together first-rate meals for vegetarians and vegans as well. The desserts are particularly innovative and interesting–I was surprised to see tofu cheesecake as one of the choices and I’m pleased to report it was light and completely delicious (I’m inspired to create something similar for this blog–stay tuned). While I won’t be a frequent diner at Morimoto’s new restaurant, I’d be happy to return for special occasions or when out-of-town guests arrive.

Exquisite tea service.

The main dining room (there are also lounge, bar and patio dining areas).

Quince-topped tofu cheesecake, with gelato (left) and syrup for dipping (center).

Strawberry "shortcake" with base of green tea-flavored cake.

Sushi rice made into rice pudding, with mango (marigold garnish).

My dining companions, Frank and Bob, on the riverfront side of Morimoto Napa.

Another celebrity chef, Tyler Florence, has a high-end culinary supply store almost next door to Morimoto Napa.

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