Join me for early visits at two new Wine Country destination eateries: Morimoto Napa and Spoonbar in Healdsburg
On the entree front, the lamb/beef mix is right in the Spoonbar Burger ($15), albeit small, on a house-sesame bun with a mini-bucket of fries. Kudos for a restrained but permeating burger topping of sweet tomato confit, cucumber chutney and spiced yogurt.
Though I am easily bored with chicken, their signature Moorish-style Brick Chicken ($24) is rife with flavor from herbs and spices, tender over grilled lemon couscous. Definitely a highlight.
Restaurant Manager, Darren Abel, runs a relaxed, festive restaurant that truly is the whole package. I’ll be plotting my next chance to get to Spoonbar when up that way – at the very least for cocktails and apps. If only this place was in the city…
MORIMOTO NAPA, Napa - Despite the celebrity chef status of the one and only Masaharu Morimoto (yes, I love the original Iron Chef), and the high price tag, the brand new Morimoto Napa restaurant is an experience and a welcome addition to Wine Country.
The space is huge, with a sea of greys enlivened by bright, yellow chairs. There’s patio waterfront seating and an ultra-cool touch of grape vines dramatically running the wall over the bar and in the lobby, as if to say, “Morimoto is now in Wine Country.”
As for the food, it adds up fast, but thankfully there’s beyond-the-norm presentations lending excitement to the expensive meal. Like me, you may have eaten a thousand tartares, but you haven’t had one quite like this: Toro Tartare ($25) comes on a little wood tray you scrape with a mini paddle, then dip in nori paste, wasabi, sour cream, chives, or a house dashi soy, smoky with a hint of bonito. Finish with a bright palate cleanser of Japanese plum.
Green Fig Tempura ($16) is a playful change of pace on the tempura front, but the real clincher is a creamy peanut butter foie gras sauce underneath, dotted with pomegranate reduction. Again, as a big beef tartare fan, I’ve had many a version. This one stands out. Beef Tartare ($18) Morimoto-style comes with asparagus flan hiding an egg in the center. As you slice through it, it oozes over the beef, asparagus slivers, lotus chips and teriyaki sauce. Morimoto Bone Marrow ($16) is an intriguing version: one giant bone loaded with gloppy, warm marrow, perked up with caramelized onions, teriyaki and spices on top.
Entrees continued in this creative vein, though Whole Roasted Lobster “Espice” ($35) had its flaws. It’s a generous portion but the lobster meat is lost in too much garam masala spice, coriander, peppercorn, and cayenne, even though that was what sold me on the dish initially. It was over-spiced but the saving grace was a divine, whipped lemon creme fraiche, contrasting the blackened spice aspect with airy tart.
Duck Duck Goose ($36) was my preferred entree – essentially duck in four parts, from a bowl of duck confit fried rice with frozen foie gras shavings topped with duck egg, to duck soup, duck confit leg, and slices of duck meat with gooseberries. Tofu Cheesecake ($12) in coffee maple syrup with maple ice cream is a signature dish for Morimoto, but though I liked the light texture of the tofu cheesecake, it was overwhelmed by thick maple syrup. A Raspberry Wasabi Sorbet was a better finish for me, hitting strong on both key ingredients.
Morimoto sat at the table next to us with friends, surveying the expansion of his growing restaurant empire. The GM stopped by our table to see how things were going and mentioned that Morimoto loved it so much here he was staying for a couple months. Even when the novelty of his first West Coast venture wears off (he’s opening in LA next - http://eater.com/archives/2010/07/23/morimoto-hits-la.php), my initial visit, merely a week after opening, suggests that this restaurant will long remain one of downtown Napa’s destinations.