Masaharu Morimoto is one of the nation’s leading Japanese chefs, and his prowess is on full display at his flagship Philadelphia restaurant, Morimoto. The restaurant occasionally hosts themed dinners in its downstairs private dining rooms (which only seats 14 around a large oblong table), and on April 29 we had the opportunity to experience the Hokkaido-themed dinner. It showcased the traditional cuisine of the Japanese island, which is the country’s northernmost prefecture, best known for its cold waters and fresh seafood.
The meal, which was prepared by Morimoto executive chef Ben Dayag, began with cold-smoked Japanese trout atop a brined cherry leaf, topped with crème fraîche. Up next was sashimi of mizutako (octopus) topped with shredded bonito flakes and gold leaf, served an alongside an espuma of pickled plum. This was followed by a Hokkaido-style “shellfish salad,” made up of uni, scallops, clams, oysters, and several varieties of seaweed. It was light and slightly briny, and smelled like low tide. Next was sous vide Dungeness crab with white asparagus and fava bean puree, topped with asparagus foam. For the main protein, we were presented with “Jingisukan” lamb (Genghis Khan), a perfectly cooked loin served with fresh spring peas and morel mushrooms. This was followed by a chirashi course of roe, uni, salmon, and tuna on a bed of sushi rice (with a deep-fried whole river crab thrown in for some crunch), and finally, dessert was Hokkaido cake with birch-scented ice cream.
Even though the meal boasted many courses, it didn’t leave us over-stuffed; there was little in the way of starch, and no heavy, fatty elements. It was a wonderful way to experience the native cuisine of this prefecture. If you’re looking to experience Morimoto at its (and his) finest, these private dinners (which you need to call the restaurant to inquire about, because they’re not on the website) are definitely worth it.