It was supposed to be a walk-through. Some quick bites. Maybe a handshake with the superstar chef. It turned into a dream dining experience.
Last week, a small media group was invited to tour Morimoto, one of the most anticipated Las Vegas Strip dining arrivals in years and now open in the MGM Grand space once occupied by Shibuya. Masaharu Morimoto built his legend not only in restaurants like Nobu but also as the third Japan-born Iron Chef on the original Japanese version of the program. Now it seems commonplace, but when Morimoto was braising meat with soda and spinning ultra-modern takes on American comfort food during Iron Chef battles, it was revelatory.
What makes Japanese cuisine so poignant is the respect for the ingredients. Whether it's traditional or new wave, every technique is used to maximize the natural flavors of the star of the dish—a practice that has made Morimoto is a true master.
As we walked through the large space—a complete cocktail lounge, a showcase sushi bar and a main dining room—we were led back to the striking teppan grill, where roughly 15 diners at a time sit and watch their meals being prepared.
Unlike other Morimoto restaurants, there is no omakase option in the main dining room. There are, however, chef's-choice tasting menus at the sushi bar ($45-$180 for sushi, $50-$200 for sashimi) and the teppan grill (starting at $180).
We sat down and Morimoto himself torched black peppers, chili peppers and cherry wood. He captured the aromatic smoke inside large domes and placed them over hamachi. While every Japanese restaurant has a riff on yellowtail, this smoking technique filled the delicate fish with such a unique, full, fruity taste, it was clear we were in for something special. The Hamachi pastrami was paired with Morimoto Junmai Daiginjo, his own brand of sake that goes down smooth but gives just enough bite.
Toro tartare was next, the fatty tuna belly meat presented on a board with six different condiments and two sushi paddles. Any Iron Chef fan knows the move here is to scrape the tuna onto the paddle and then run the paddle through the condiments. Nori paste, wasabi, sour cream, chives, guacamole and crispy rice puffs all offered different tastes, making this interactive dish as fun as it was delicious.
Perhaps the biggest thrill of the meal was course three, A5 Wagyu beef sukiyaki cooked in paper on the grill. The high-end product was combined with a mixture of veggies and tofu in a sweet, comforting soy and mirin broth. A soft-poached jidori chicken egg was served with it, adding another luxury element.
The A5 kept coming as Morimoto presented skewers with fresh-grated wasabi and chimichurri, and garlic fried rice with salmon finished off the savory course.
From there we were bombarded with six desserts, each hitting different notes. Doughnuts with yuzu sugar and pastry cream. Coconut cake with mango parfait and coconut green tea sorbet. Dark chocolate mousse with cherry sauce and Krisch’s ice cream. Cheesecake soufflé with orange cream and red wine sorbet. Tofu mousse with black sesame air cake, coffee maple syrup and fresh fruit. And a salty caramel chocolate tart which is lit on fire tableside.
Six courses, an all-out assault of deliciousness. There are expectations that come with being a legendary chef. Morimoto surpassed those on this day, making this one big restaurant opening that should live up to the hype.
Morimoto MGM Grand, 702-891-3001. Sunday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 5-10:30 p.m.