Back in the late ‘90s, Iron Chef launched Masaharu Morimoto into the culinary-celebrity stratosphere.
But it’s his restaurants—17 of them across six countries, to be exact—that have kept the Japanese-born tastemaker at the top for more than 20 years.
Spicy tonkotsu ramen at Momosan in San Jose.(Courtesy of Momosan Santana Row)
With the recent opening of Momosan in San Jose and Morimoto Asia in Napa, three of the chef’s restaurants now reside in the Bay Area, a gastronomical hat trick that includes Japanese fine dining concept Morimoto Napa, which opened in 2010. “I have always loved the Bay Area,” says Morimoto, "from the people to the culture to the overall vibe.”
The chef’s new restaurants are not only very different from one another, but from existing Morimoto Napa, too.
Momosan, in San Jose’s Santana Row, is a fast-casual ramen and sake concept set against a laid-back but sleek dining room with an open kitchen designed by New York firm Studio Canall. Steaming bowls of dashi loaded with goodies like seven-hour braised beef ribs and chashu pork dominate the menu, along with crowd pleasing appetizers like tuna sashimi pizza, duck tacos with apricot sweet chili, and fried soft shell crab bao. Morimoto also had a role in crafting seven of the 15 styles of sake on the menu, as well as its Rogue Brewery beer and Grgich Hills Estate wine.
Morimoto Asia in Napa, on the other hand, features food not just from Japan but from across the Far East. The interior, also designed by Studio Canall, is a bit more sophisticated than at Momosan but still unfussy, with tables arranged around a large central bar.
The interior of Morimoto Asia in Napa.(Kentaro Terra)
Chinese flavors are at the forefront of Morimoto Asia, explains the chef. The extensive menu includes hot pot with protein choices that range from scallops and oysters to chicken and beef; rice and noodle dishes like lobster pad Thai and chicken congee; and flavor-packed classic and signature dishes like Szechuan mapo tofu, orange chicken, and black pepper steak. Half a dozen types of dim sum plus hot and cold appetizers round out the offering, along with sake, cocktails, and a curated wine list.
“The dishes showcase my travels across Asia. For me it is all about using the best ingredients possible, and preparing them with respect and passion to create a delicious dish,” says the chef.
While you won’t find Morimoto in the kitchen at either of these new restaurant, his invisible hand guides them both. “I’m very involved in each restaurant, as much as I can be,” he assures. “From the design to menu creation to how the staff operates, I try to keep as active as possible, which makes each one unique and special to me.”
But don’t go thinking that 17 restaurants is the limit of what the chef can handle. With his new mochi donut kits, Morimoto’s got designs on your kitchen, too. For just over $40, they have everything you’ll need to make and bake 18 Japanese pastries in three flavors at home.
Masaharu Morimoto at the opening of Morimoto Asia in Napa.(Courtesy of Morimoto Asia Napa)