Cooking with Alison

Review of Nobu vs. Morimoto Restaurants, New York City

In Reviews on April 2, 2011 at am

I am in love with Japanese food, so I was very excited to eat at two world renowned Japanese restaurants in NYC.  I went to Nobu for dinner on a Sunday night and then to Morimoto the next day (Monday) for lunch.  (If you’re planning on going to either restaurant, be sure to make reservations weeks in advance.)  The dining experience at these restaurants couldn’t have been more different.  Nobu disappointed me on all fronts, while Morimoto gave me the best meal of my life.  But having said that, there were definitely some things that Nobu did better than Morimoto.  So this is my review comparing Nobu (not Nobu Next Door) and Moriomoto.  Photo below:  The entrance to Morimoto.

Note:  Normally I don’t like to take photos of food in restaurants, but I couldn’t help myself at Morimoto, because the dishes were so artistic and creative.  We were in awe of the presentation of each course and blown away by the taste and interesting food pairing.

Review of Nobu vs. Morimoto New York Restaurants

Decor and Atmosphere

Nobu is dimly lit with very darkly painted walls and prominent natural wood elements.  There are high ceilings but the dining room is L-shaped and slightly narrow.  The darkness continues into the bathroom which makes it feel enclosed.  I much preferred the decor at Morimoto, where the opposite atmosphere has been created.

Morimoto has a very modern and contemporary decor.  It is brightly lit, open and airy, and decorated mainly with white and glass.  The restaurant is made up of clean, straight lines that are perfectly balanced by the white walls and ceilings that have lovely soft waves.  The chairs and tables are boxy and white; and seating areas are divided by large, artistic glass barriers.  Be sure to use the washroom at Morimoto before you leave.  The mirror, walls, and vanity are modern and plain with simple and clean lines.  Even the soap dispenser is hidden behind and beneath the mirror.  The bidet toilets are high tech with warm seats, motion sensors that lift the seat covers, and several rinsing options.  The wall behind the toilets contrasts the modern bathroom with a natural maple leaf display done with glass and mirror effects.  The bar area downstairs is very nice too.

Price

Nobu and Morimoto are both world renowned, high end restaurants.  So you can expect to spend around $100 per person for a 3 course (not necessarily filling) meal and one of the lower priced drinks.  It was our general impression that the prices at Morimoto seemed slightly lower than those at Nobu.  In my opinion, the food and service at Morimoto is definitely worth it.  Note that at Nobu, an 18% gratuity is automatically added to your bill for parties of 6 or more (see my comments below on the terrible service).

Menu

I am comparing the dinner menu at Nobu to the lunch menu at Morimoto from March 2011.  Both restaurants have hot appetizers, cold appetizers, an assortment of sushi and maki, and various entrees.  Morimoto also has a raw bar.  We found the appetizer selection at Morimoto more interesting and more appealing.  The most popular cold appetizers at Nobu, as recommended and described by the waiter, sounded boring and very small in portion size.  Most disappointingly, Nobu did not have ika (raw squid).  I even tried to order it off-the-menu.  Luckily, Morimoto had it on their menu.  In terms of drinks, I loved the cocktail selection at Nobu.  I didn’t look at the alcoholic drinks menu at Morimoto.  Both restaurants have great dessert menus.

Drinks

It was at Nobu that I developed an appreciation for sake.  We had the original Nobu sake, Black Label (hokusetsu daiginjo) in bamboo.  Prior to this, I had never liked sake before.  But this sake was wonderful.  Never again, will I ever drink sake out of anything other than bamboo.  It was crisp, refreshing, and almost sweet with a very natural undertone from the bamboo.

All of the cocktails at Nobu sounded wonderful and I would have loved to try them all.  I only ordered the bellini martini.  It was very smooth, but I would have preferred it if they had added more peach puree.

At Morimoto, I tried the non-alcoholic drinks, Morimoto iced tea and ginger lemonade (photo below).  The Morimoto iced tea had calpico (a Japanese non-carbonated soft drink that is slightly milky and acidic) and blueberries.  I tasted Jasmine black tea in it as well.  It is a very light summer drink and in my opinion, the flavour was too subtle.  The ginger lemonade (photo below), however, was very nice.  It was refreshing with a hint of ginger in the syrup and a few thyme leaves.

Food

Appetizers at Nobu

At Nobu, we all had miso soup to start.  We also ordered the squid “pasta” with garlic sauce, the ceviche, and rock shrimp tempura with creamy spicy sauce.  The latter two dishes were recommended by the waiter among a few others.  The portion sizes were surprisingly adequate.

In terms of the taste:  The miso soup was standard.  Personally, I liked that it wasn’t very salty.  But some people might consider it bland.  The squid “pasta” with garlic sauce was good but nothing special.  I usually love ceviche, but I didn’t like the texture of the white fish used in Nobu’s ceviche.  It was much too firm and tough for my taste.  Also, I found the fish to be bland.  The rock shrimp tempura with creamy spicy sauce, however, was delicious.  Even though the tempura batter was soggy from the sauce, it was still enjoyable.  The shrimp pieces were large and perfectly cooked, and the sauce was the perfect balance of spicy, creamy, salty, and acidity.  It was everyone’s favourite.  Also, the rock shrimp tempura dish was quite large.  Other than that, we were not impressed by the appetizers.

Appetizers at Morimoto

At Morimoto, we ordered the raw oysters, toro tartare, yellowtail “pastrami”, fresh buffalo mozzarella, spicy king crab, and ramen soup.  The freshness of the fish was the best I’ve ever tasted (Nobu’s was comparable).  The raw oysters (photo below) came with 3 different toppings: onion ceviche with micro cilantro, garlic and ginger, and fish sauce with a thin slice of jalapeno.  All of the toppings were nice but I still prefer to eat raw oysters plain with a simple squirt of fresh lemon juice.

The toro tartare (photo below) came with a beautiful palette of dips that included (from left to right) wasabi, sour cream, seaweed paste, chives, guacamole, and tiny round crispy rice crackers.  The dish looked like a piece of art work and it was fun to eat.  The rice crackers were our favourite topping.  To be honest, I wouldn’t order this again, but I think it’s a must try for first-timers, because it’s a very unique way to enjoy tartare and it’s visually impressive.

The yellowtail “pastrami” (photo below) was the first time I have ever eaten slices of sashimi that have been dusted or crusted with Japanese spices.  It was served with gin creme fraiche to cool down the spiciness of the coating.  This was the simplest appetizer but it was my favourite (probably because I already love sashimi to begin with).

I was surprised to see fresh buffalo mozzarella (photo below) on the menu, and even more surprised to see how they paired it with seafood.  I tried the piece that was paired with cooked octopus.  I must admit that I didn’t think that the combination worked particularly well, but the octopus was good and the mozzarella was even better, so I have no complaints.  From what I heard, the pieces of mozzarella paired with raw fish were delicious too.  There was also a piece that was paired with the standard prosciutto.

The spicy king crab (photo below) was beautifully plated, perfectly cooked, and easy to eat.  It clearly took great skill to open up one strip of the shell the way that they did.  The spicy sauce was delicious; it wasn’t too spicy, and it was made with a lot of roe.

Since the four of us ordered 2 of the ramen soup (photo below) to share, the waiter served it table side – which was a very nice touch.  The ramen soup was very flavourful; I could even taste the smokiness from the roasted chicken.  However, it was too salty for our tastes.

Entrees at Nobu

At Nobu, we ordered (from best to worst): the black cod with miso, tenderloin of beef with pepper sauce, Colorado lamb chops, tempura dinner, and sushi dinner.  The black cod with miso was the best black cod I have ever eaten.  It was even better than the black cod dish from Morimoto (see more details below).  The sauce was flavourful and absolutely delicious, and it wasn’t too salty despite the miso.  Somehow, they were able to prepare the fish in a way that made the flesh firmer than usual, making it much more enjoyable.  The only thing that would ever compel me to go back to Nobu would be that black cod dish.  (Note that Nobu: The Cookbook published the black cod with miso recipe!  If I’m successful at recreating it, I will post the recipe.)  The beef tenderloin was prepared beautifully; it was flavourful, tender, and pink.  I didn’t try the lamb chops but the people that did said that it was too fatty.  The tempura dinner was disappointing because the assortment of vegetables that they offered were the most boring and standard vegetables on their menu.  Also, it appears that they use authentic Japanese tempura batter.  Authentic batters don’t get as crispy as what we prefer, so we didn’t enjoy it.  The sushi was made with the freshest fish I have ever had (comparable to Morimoto).  Even the subtle toro and yellowtail pieces seemed wonderfully flavourful.  However, the sushi pieces looked, for lack of a better word, ugly.  They looked as though an amateur sushi chef had made them.  Furthermore, one of my biggest complaints about Nobu is that the rice was too bland.  Perhaps they did this on purpose to highlight the taste of the fresh fish.  However, the rice was so noticeably bland, that my cousin and I weren’t able to enjoy the sushi or the rolls.  Perhaps they failed to add enough sugar and vinegar.

Entrees at Morimoto

At Morimoto, we ordered the sea bass, braised black cod, and ika sushi.  The sea bass (photo below) was a good size.  It was laid on a bed of tempura vegetables and covered with a light and flavourful sauce that contained some sort of alcohol.  My only complaint about this dish was that the vegetables were soggy from the sauce.

The black cod dish was also good, but it wasn’t nearly as good as the black cod with miso from Nobu.  The portion size of the black cod from Morimoto was also smaller than the one from Nobu.  The ika we had at Morimoto was the softest raw squid I have ever had.  The sushi at Morimoto was made and shaped beautifully, unlike the sushi from Nobu.  Also, the rice at Morimoto was delicious in comparison.

Photo below:  At Morimoto, the hand towels came in small wooden containers that were very cute.

Rolls at Nobu

We noticed that the rolls from Morimoto were slightly larger with more fillings than the rolls from Nobu.

My cousin said that the best California rolls he has ever had were from the Nobu in Las Vegas.  So we ordered them at the Nobu in New York.  We also ordered the house special roll and the yellowtail and scallion roll.   The California roll had real crab, no roe, and I thought it was just okay.  My cousin said that the California rolls from Nobu in Las Vegas were better than the ones from the New York restaurant.  The house special roll was even more disappointing.  It was a very wide roll, filled with pieces of various types of fish.  But it was bland and boring.  The simple yellowtail and scallion roll, however, was very good.  Once again, the blandness of the rice was unpleasant.  On a positive note, the ripeness of the avocados used at Nobu was absolutely perfect.  They were the tiniest bit too firm at Morimoto.

Rolls at Morimoto

At Morimoto, we ordered the spicy yellowtail roll (shown on the right in the photo below) and the eel and avocado roll (shown on the left in the photo below).  The spicy yellowtail roll was good even though the sauce was more sour than spicy.  The eel and avocado roll was nice too.  The rice used at Morimoto tasted much better than the rice used at Nobu, so we liked the Morimoto rolls a lot more.

Dessert at Nobu

At Nobu, we ordered the mango yuzu champagne, bento box, mochi ice cream, apple butterscotch miso and banana soy toban (which I didn’t try).  The mango yuzu champagne was very good.  It is a layered dessert with lovely, light layers of cream and cake and beautifully ripened mangoes.  It was perfectly sweetened.  The bento box was a favourite at our table.  The warm and moist cake was very chocolatey and had an interesting green filling in the centre.  The mochi ice cream was my favourite dessert from Nobu.  The mochi flavours were grape, vanilla and mint chocolate, and they were filled with ice cream.  Keep in mind that mochi is not meant to be very sweet.  These bite sized desserts were light and refreshing in flavour and they had the perfect chewy and creamy textures.  The apple butterscotch miso (photo below) was a huge disappointment.  Although it had the greatest impact presentation wise, with a blue flame burning below the dessert (photo below), it was not enjoyable taste wise.  The apple butterscotch miso was a play on contrasting textures and temperature.  For example, they layered crunchy (but tasteless) strands between soft ice cream and softened apples.  They also heated the apples from below to counter the cold ice cream above.  Although this thoughtful dessert was striking to look at, it was boring in taste.  The apples lacked sweetness and were overpowered by the bland crunchy bits.

Dessert at Morimoto

At Morimoto, we ordered the warm chocolate cake, apple turban, and tofu “hot and cold”.  The warm chocolate cake dessert (photo below) came with caramel popcorn, fresh fruit, and ice cream.  It was a fun arrangement of dessert components and the popcorn was very good.  The flourless cake itself was nice but the bento box chocolate cake from Nobu was better.

The apple turban (photo below) was absolutely beautiful and exceptional in taste compared to Nobu’s apple dessert.  It must have taken great skill to make the apple turban, because the thin apple slices were cooked to the perfect texture for folding, arranging, and standing up to create that hollow ring.

The tofu “hot and cold” (photo below) dessert consisted of a tofu cheesecake with maple espresso dip, soy milk souffle, and maple ice cream.  The texture of the tofu cheesecake was perfectly smooth, soft, and light.  It was quite mellow in flavour but that’s probably because they paired it with a very sweet maple espresso dip.  It was not my favourite component.  The soy milk souffle, however, was the best souffle I’ve ever had.  I wished for several more.  The ice cream was also the best ice cream I’ve ever had.  The only downside is that it melted quite quickly, but that usually means that all natural ingredients were used, so no complaints here.

Service

Good service is very important to me, especially when dining in high end restaurants such as Nobu and Morimoto.  Unfortunately, these two restaurants have very different philosophies on customer service.

The negative experience with Nobu started over the phone.  When I called to change my reservation from 4 to 6 people, the lady on the phone responded with attitude.  During the dinner service, we were all turned off by the snootiness of our unhelpful, rude, and absent waiter.  The servers seemed miserable too.  Perhaps we were experiencing the Soho attitude, or perhaps it was the guaranteed 18% tip from our party of 6 (restaurant policy).  Either way, it was unacceptable.  Other than the poor attitude, my other complaint is that our orders didn’t come out at the same time.  Some of us had to wait a few minutes for everyone else to be served.  The only good thing I can say about the service at Nobu is that my water glass was always promptly filled without my having to ask.

The service at Morimoto could not have been any better.  Our waiter was friendly and relaxed and all of the servers were informative, welcoming, and likeable.  The food came out of the kitchen at the perfect pace.  Above all, I appreciated how the kitchen served the appetizers like a succession of courses.  The waiter knew that we were planning to share the appetizers and the appetizers were served in a thoughtful order.  (At Nobu, the appetizers were served randomly and came out as they were assembled in the kitchen.)  Thanks to the staff at Morimoto, we had a wonderful 2 1/2 hour lunch.

Overall Summary

These restaurants have completely different approaches and philosophies.  I was surprisingly disappointed by Nobu’s food (presentation as well as taste) and service.  On a positive note, they had perfectly ripened avocados, the best black cod dish I have ever tasted, and wonderful mochi ice cream desserts.  (Note that Nobu: The Cookbook published the black cod with miso recipe!  If I’m successful at recreating it, I will post the recipe.)  Morimoto gave me the best meal of my life.  The attention to detail that is maintained by the chefs and wait staff is outstanding.  Their dishes were much more inventive, visually impressive, and skillfully executed.  I was introduced to many new ingredients at Morimoto.  Furthermore, the service exceeded our expectations.

I wonder if I would have been just as disappointed with Nobu’s food had we ordered different dishes.  But then again, for such an expensive restaurant, I think it is reasonable to expect that each and every item on the menu be excellent.  If you order wisely, you will have a phenomenal meal at Nobu.  If you order blindly at Morimoto, odds are good that you’ll still have a phenomenal meal, without the offensive service.

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  1. […] here to see the original: Review of Nobu vs. Morimoto Restaurants, New York City « Cooking … Uncategorized completely-different, different-approaches, esentation-as-well, […]

  2. Are you for real? I’m so ecstatic to have found this on bing. This is worthy to send to whoever I know.

  3. Just so you know, Morimoto was the head chef of Nobu before opening his own. Nobu is the grand master at Japanese.

  4. I have to say that I’ve been to both Nobu’s in London plus the original Nobu in NY and Nobu 57. My last trip to NY I tried Morimoto and I have to tell you it is hands down the best sushi/Japanese food I’ve ever had.

    • Nice to hear you agree! But I had dinner at Morimoto in NY recently and our whole party was disappointed with their entrees… it was so sad. I prefer Nobu’s entrees and desserts. I prefer Morimoto’s ambience, appetizers and service. I might try Morimoto in San Francisco next week. If it disappoints, I’ll never go back 😦

  5. […] tantalizing, the chain has had its day in NYC while Morimoto garnering some stellar reviews: “Morimoto gave me the best meal of my life,” said one blogger. Book your table in advance and enjoy the impeccable service and attention to […]

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