Sake Flight – Fukumitsuya Morimoto Junmai Daiginjo, Dassai Otter Fest 23 Junmai Daiginjo, Tatenokawa 18 Junmai Daiginjo, Fukumitsuya Morimoto 5-year
Oyster Foie Gras – Shigoku Oyster, Uni, Foie Gras, Teriyaki
Duck Duck Goose – Duck Meatball Soup, Confit Duck Leg, Duck Confit Jasmine Rice with Sunny Side Duck Egg, Seared Duck Breast in Gooseberry Compote
Ishi Yaki Buri Bop – Yellowtail on Rice Cooked in a Stone Bowl with Daikon, Carrots, Cilantro, Ginger Soy
Mizudako, Kohada, Aji – Ginger, Wasabi, Morimoto Blend Soy Sauce
Fiery Chocolate Tart – Marshmallow, Salty Caramel Ganache, Spiced Rum, Dark Chocolate Sorbet
Doughnut – Vanilla and Whipped Cream
Chilled Cheesecake Souffle – Orange Cream, Blood Orange Meringue, Strawberry-Red Wine Sorbet
Tofu Mousse – Black Sesame Air Cake, Coffee Maple Syrup, Apricot Sorbet
Opened in mid-October, a substantial delay and relocation from original plans for The Mirage to MGM Grand’s old Shibuya spot now a story of the past, Morimoto Las Vegas has been serving tourists as well as locals for just over six months, the man who helped make televised competition cooking a ‘thing’ in America finally joining peers including Flay, Batali and Puck with an outpost in the land of Celebrity Chefs.
Now nearing sixty-two years old and acting as an Executive Chef since 1980, his interest in America first bringing him west in the private sector and later as part of the Nobu empire before gaining international fame as a competitor on Iron Chef, Masaharu Morimoto opened his first US restaurant in Philadelphia in 2001 before expanding globally through several financial partnerships, his empire now eleven-strong and still growing, many of the locations found in non-traditional spots such as Mumbai or Mexico City as well as destination-dining hotbeds such as Manhattan or Napa Valley.
Seemingly an odd time to come to Sin City, several recent big-ticket openings going belly up or struggling with nearly every Casino now featuring some sort of Big-Box Sushi concept from Mizumi and Nobu to Roku and Zuma, Morimoto occupies a lengthy footprint directly across from Fiamma and Tom Collichio’s craftsteak, a striped bust of the man himself greeting guests behind a black podium where reservations are collected, General Manager Jim Bibbee overseeing a room with capacity of over two-hundred inclusive of Bars and Main Dining Room, plus three large tables for Teppanyaki.
Designed in a style best described as ‘upscale zen,’ the Sushi Bar brightly lit while other parts of the restaurant feature an ambient glow arising behind opaque glass or wood, those entering Morimoto during early hours will likely see the lounge and front sections filled with diners looking for small bites before heading off to other forms of entertainment while the back area is reserved for those making Morimoto the evening’s main event, a wide range of races and ages all represented and in for a treat from the educated and professional staff.
Using mid-tempo music to help drive the mood, voiceless beats mellowing surrounding conversations but never so loud as to be an annoyance, it was just past 5:30pm when a seat was offered at a small two-top booth along the wall just outside the kitchen, greetings offered from a middle-aged man who was clearly well trained followed by a visit from Mr. Bibbee who was often seen circulating the room to make sure everything was in order.
Not just a sushi-spot, though raw fish is featured across 2/3 of a six-page menu with pricing that at times seems punitive though also offering the occasional deal, it was after a brief discussion that the decision was made to dine plate-by-plate at the kitchen’s discretion, a complimentary Sake flight offering an education in Junmai Daiginjo with the Chef’s signature-style from Fukumitsuya almost as smooth as water with a velvety finish while the version aged for five years in porcelain took on a Straw color and tasted not so different from Bourbon.
Deciding that a first-visit to the world of Morimoto would be well invested in the Iron Chef’s signature plates, a course of Nigiri sent out gratis before Dessert speaking to good quality as relates to fatty fishes and the silky ‘live’ Octopus, it was with Sake slowly sipped and compared that three West-Coast Oysters topped in Sea Urchin, a slice of Duck Liver and sweet Teriyaki was presented on a bed of Salt crystals and Chili threads, the mixture rich and unctuous yet still ‘accessible’ with each $8 bite the sort of thing that will thrill experienced diners while still offering a good intro to luxury items for those more timid.
Always happy to see Fowl on a menu, Chef Morimoto’s Duck Duck Goose offered from his earliest days in Philadelphia and standing alongside the Angry Chicken and Tuna Pizza as his most famous East-West Fusion plates, fans of Duck as well as those uninitiated would be well-served to investigate four different presentations offered on one plate, the long-grain fried Rice topped in a Sunny-side Duck Egg fragrant and full of diced Meat while the Meatball is undoubtedly infused with Offal amidst savory broth served clear as a bell, the confit Leg slipping off the Bone with almost no effort while the rosy Breast is barely seared atop Gooseberries that start of sour but finish faintly sweet.
Firing up the first Teppanyaki table just past seven o’clock, the others soon to follow as two large groups and one family sat before Chefs displaying several cuts of Beef, it was mere moments before the poignant scent of Ginger, Scallions, Garlic and Soy permeated the atmosphere, a dish of sliced Yellowtail cooked in a stone bowl tableside at first mingling well as crisp rice danced with Cilantro and julienned Vegetables but later even itself overwhelmed by the pungent scent poorly cleared by outdated ventilation hoods.
Always overzealous for Dessert, a lowlight of many “Asian” restaurants as they focus on more traditional flavors such as Taro, Red Bean, Matcha or Fruit, Masaharu‘s time in North America has seen the Chef adapt to local palates by way of dishes such as airy Doughnuts with pipettes of Custard and a cone of Whipped Cream made for dipping while both the Tofu Mousse with Black Sesame as well as the fluffy Orange Cheesecake are nicely balanced by fresh Citrus, the $20 “Fiery Chocolate Tart” immediately drawing eyes from all over the room as the dark sphere is doused in flames revealing a center of Marshmallow, Dark Chocolate Sorbet and Salty Caramel Ganache, though even this decadent dish tinged in booze proved no match to umami-infused air around it.
THREE AND A HALF STARS: Rare to go out of my way for Sushi on the Strip, my desire for raw Fish generally served by Ceviche, Tartare or Crudo, all three savories, Nigiri and four Desserts at Morimoto Las Vegas speak to a high quality establishment run by people that care, though the overpowering smell of Garlic and Soy from Teppanyaki Tables is so strong that one cannot help but wonder why the designers did not invest in better equipment as a beautiful meal quickly turned into a rather unpleasant experience overwhelmed by air so pungent you could actually taste it.
RECOMMENDED: Oyster Foie Gras, Duck Duck Goose, Fiery Chocolate Tart, Tofu Mousse.
AVOID: Sitting anywhere near the Teppanyaki Tables. Would also think twice about the Sushi prices as compared to several off-Strip spots.
TIP: Dinner only, Sunday through Thursday 5pm to 10pm, Friday and Saturday 5pm to 10:30pm. Online menu is poorly representative of the Restaurant’s full selection.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor.