Morimoto Philadelphia

27 07 2008

Recently we went to Morimoto restaurant in Philadelphia. Located on Chestnut between 7th and 8th, the nondescript front makes it easy to miss.

We ordered the omakase tasting menu and liked it, but weren’t as impressed as we thought we should have been. The only sake we got to taste was the Morimoto Junmai, and the food completely outshone the drinks. I would like to go back and order a higher priced option to see what changes–the quality of the drinks, food, or simply the quantity.

Tasting menu:

1. Bele Casel Prosecco, with tartar chu-toro with caviar and fresh wasabi. I was so proud of myself for loving this dish as I am usually not a huge fan of caviar.
2. Huber “Hugo” Gruner Veltliner from Austria and carpacio yuzu hamachi
3. Daniel Gehrs un-oaked California chard with seared hamachi and microgreen salad

I enjoyed the first three dishes and could have called myself satisfied with them but my husband thought they were all too similar. I thought they were fresh and flavorful and not filling at all.

4. Strawberry gele with mint

5. Morimoto Soba Ale with soba carbonara–this combination of drink/food didn’t really fit together as both were very heavy. But this was our favorite dish: soba boiled in green tea and served with scallops, bacon, Parmesan cheese, and edamame.
6. Ratzenberger German Reisling with black miso cod–this was my husband’s favorite, served with pickled daikon and black beans. I was a little put off my the fishy taste of the cod.
7. Morimoto Junmai sake with nigirizushi. The rice was perfect. By this point I was stuffed and couldn’t finish the 5 pieces that were served.
8. Domaine de Coyeux Muscat from France with no-flour chocolate cake, white chocolate mousse, white and black miso sauces.

We had differing opinions of the dessert. I thought the cake was amazing just by itself but I did not enjoy the miso sauces with it. Usually I love the salty-sweet combination, but the taste of the miso was too strong for the chocolate.

I would recommend Morimoto to anyone, but if we go back, I’d like to sample some of their specialty dishes and especially peruse the extensive sake list they have available.


Top Rosés: Francis Ford Coppola Sofia

20 07 2008

The Rosé party is long over, but I am finally posting the last few wines from that event. I thought the top wines from our tasting deserved a little more attention than the others, so I will post each one separately.

This week is the Sofia Rosé from the Francis Ford Coppola winery. This is a really soft, delicate wine, with all the flavor characteristics claimed by the company website. Lots of rose petals and strawberries, cherries and raspberries. For me it was more raspberries and rose petals than anything else. This is something I find a little strange, because the wine is described as 100% Sonoma Coast pinot noir. The Sonoma Coast region is probably one of my favorite wine regions on Earth, and certainly in the U.S. The wines, and especially pinots from that region, have this incredible quality that I always find myself short of words trying to describe. They are also one of the first wines I could immediately identify on first sniff. This wine had none of those Sonoma Coast qualities.

Don’t get me wrong, it was excellent juice, and I’d be delighted to open another bottle sometime, but in terms of smelling or tasting like Sonoma Coast fruit, it fell flat. The other area where it came up a little short for me was acidity. A perfect rose should have an excellent balance of fruity and acidic qualities. This wine has the fruit down, and in spades, not overly fruity like juice, but certainly noticeable and contributing to the overall presence of the wine. For me it was just a little shy on the fruit end of things.

I probably would have been more glowing about this wine if I had not reviewed the technical notes on the Coppola website. Having seen where the pinot juice is supposed to be from I now feel like I’m being a little hard on it, but if you are going to claim a specific viticultural region, it should at least carry the primary qualities of that region.

All in all an excellent offering from California, and certainly a bottle I would not hesitate to enjoy again.

Review: John & Kiras

9 07 2008

John & Kiras is a local company that produces high quality gourmet chocolates and also contributes to philanthropic projects. They are famous for their Garden Mint flavor, which is made with fresh mint that is grown by a local Philadelphia elementary school. Garden Mint is my personal favorite, and whenever I taste their mint chocolate pieces, I can taste the fresh, sweet, and clean flavors. The fact that the mint is grown and purchased from a local school makes me feel less guilty about eating it!

Other flavors from John & Kiras include Raspberry, Honey Lavender, and Pistachi-Oh! Every one of the chocolate flavors that comes out of this company perfectly showcases the main ingredient. The textures are perfect–a bit truffle-like but firm, and the chocolate has a creamy but tart quality to it (more European than American). Each flavor has its own specific design on the top of the piece, so you know which flavor you’ll be trying!

You can purchase John & Kiras chocolates directly from their website, and they often have seasonal specials. The most unique aspect of this chocolate producer is their conscious effort to give back to the local community in as many ways as possible. They are also reaching out to other urban communities to continue their Project Mintpatch.

Roundstone, County Galway, Ireland

5 07 2008

Even if you aren’t a fan of The Matchmaker, starring Janeane Garofalo, Roundstone is a must-stop town on your trip to Western Ireland. Located in the scenic Connemara region of County Galway, Roundstone is accessible both by car or public bus.

There is one road running through the center of town, the same road that runs to Clifden in the West and Galway city in the east. Besides being the location of The Matchmaker, Roundstone is also known for famed local celebrity, Malachy Kearns, owner of Roundstone Musical Instruments, home of the Irish drum, the bodhran; and Mt. Errisbeg, which looms above the seaside community.

Climbing Mt. Errisbeg can be an adventure, if not a physical test of endurance. When I climbed the mountain, it was during the Food and Mouth disease outbreak, that hadn’t seemed to reach the outskirts of the wild West. Using the tiny map in my Lonely Planet guidebook, I found a path next to O’Dowd’s pub and then a small lane by some houses and farms.

I came to a dead end with a house right at the end of the path, with the mountain looming up in front of me. A man standing outside the house joked with me when I asked him if I could go through his back yard to climb the mountain. He said it would cost five (punts) to hire him as a guide and also told me there were a lot of “wild animals” up there. I went through his gate (“just close it behind you,” were his last words to me) to his pasture where his sheep were grazing. The whole mountain was used for sheep grazing and I’m surprised no one was worried about me spreading Foot and Mouth. But I am slowly learning that in Connemara, rules mean nothing.

I made my way up the mountain, carefully avoiding the streams and sheep droppings, and scaring the herds as I walked by them. It was a beautiful mountain with no real path and when I got to the top I could see the entire town and the water down below. The strong, chilly wind kept me from lingering too long at the top, so I quickly started my descent. I should have left a trail of breadcrumbs because I got lost and disoriented on the way down. I couldn’t remember which way to go and soon I couldn’t even see the town for a landmark. Also, there were gates and walls up around me and I couldn’t figure out how to get around them. I feared I was on the private property of people not as kind as the man who offered to be my guide and that they would come out of their homes and yell at me. I made a lucky guess on the direction I had to go in and the man’s back yard and gate was very close to where I was as I made my way back to civilization.

I went to Roundstone Musical Instruments store to browse for the second day in a row. A man having tea said, “Hello again” and I said hello even though I had no idea who he was. He began talking to me and I soon learned that he was the bodhran man, Malachy Kearns, owner of the shop, maker of the most famous bodhrans in the world, a vary prominent man, actually. He makes drums for all of the famous Irish musicians, including the Chieftains. I told him that I was planning on purchasing one of his bodhrans and he proceeded to force me (kindly) to sit and talk with him over some coffee and a delicious cream pastry. He took me over to his collections and pointed out some particularly nice drums. It just so happened that we liked and admired the same one—the skin used to make it wasn’t perfectly white—it had some darker patches running through it—and a painted Celtic design of a bird. Malachy actually gave it to me along with three beaters (“sticks” to hit it with) and a manual on how to use it. It was such a pleasant surprise because we had just met and didn’t even know each other very well. I only had to pay the 24 punts shipping charge to send it home so I wouldn’t have to carry it around with me. I think it was worth around 50 punts, which is actually inexpensive for a bodhran. I thanked him profusely and told him I would stop in the next day to say hello.

I had to find something to do to fill the next day because the bus didn’t come until 4:50, so I wandered into town and back to the music shop. I had coffee with Malachy, two local men, and a Swiss couple who bought one of the only replicas of the Book of Kells (the original being on display in Trinity College in Dublin). The Book of Kells is an illustrated manuscript from the year 800, which makes it one of the oldest books in the world. It is believed that monks on the island of Iona, off the western coast of Scotland, produced the book and moved it to Kells in Ireland to keep it safe from a Viking raid in 806. To buy your own copy of this book would cost $18,000 but a paperback version can be bought for $17.99. Malachy said he wanted to buy one of the copies and display it in his shop and they were all discussing how he could do that (how to display it, how to keep it safe, among other logistics).

After Malachy gave a brief talk on the bodhran and an explanation and a demonstration to a hoard of German tourists, I left the commotion and went to O’Dowd’s Pub for lunch and caught the bus on the way to Oughterard, which is another adventure I might write about later.

Rose Partay: Middle of the Pack

1 07 2008

Sorry it has taken me so long to get to part two of our rose review. The middle group was dominated by wines that had a great overall quality but didn’t quite amaze or overwhelm. Many of these wines are all really solid and very enjoyable.

#4: Red Bicyclette French Rose– This Gallo produced wine from France is made from grenache, syrah and cinsault grapes, the French trifecta of rose grapes. The grapes are sourced from various parts of the Languedoc region, the worlds largest grape producing area. Some people feel that the Languedoc produces really low-end grapes, but if you seek them out, there is some top-quality fruit to be had at bargain prices. I don’t quite think of this as top quality. However, it’s definitely solid juice, with a nice overall balance, a very fun and easy-going wine lacking a little on the acid side of the equation, but definitely with some enjoyable fruit.

#3: Marquis de la Tour sparkling Rose- This producer from the Loire valley in France started out as the Remy Pannier negociant in the 1800’s. As the link will inform you, this company has been held collectively by the vineyard and winery owners since 2002, which I think is pretty cool. As an additional plus, it’s a bubbly wine for under $10 that actually tastes pretty good. The grapes going into it are: Cabernet Franc, which is widely grown in the Loire region (famous as Chinon…but that’s another entry…), Grolleau, Syrah and Grenache. Altogether, this is another highly enjoyable wine for when you’re looking for something a step or two above that frightening bottle of Andre, but you’re not interested in paying $35 for a starter bottle of French champagne. Very Fun Bubbles.

#2: Vin Gris de Cigare– Mm-Hhmmm…so this wine comes from Bonny Doon Vineyards, just outside of San Francisco. The winery owner and wine-maker are known to be unusual even within the wine trade, which is truly saying something about them. Unorthodox to the maximum, the website features whimsical alien/spaceship designs–a major focus of their label design and packaging. Back to the wine though. Gris refers to grey, usually reserved for certain types of “black” grapes that end up producing white wines. Here, though, they use a considerable amount of Grenache Blanc to soften the other darker fruits that tincture the wine. It has great fruit flavors but not much complexity. Overall that’s the main thrust behind most of the wines in this category: great fruit, easy-going, but not much in the department of complexity. But hey, Rose is a fun, easy-going kind of wine meant to be flexible, tasty, and highly quaffable.

#1: Vanda Rose-This wine from Cherry Hill winery in Willamette Valley, Oregon is a pinot noir single varietal rose. This 2005 vintage bottling is still holding up quite well, and the fruit comes across very nicely. It was a favorite among our friends as the party. Very bright fruit, but because the wine has been in bottle for a while, the acidity and structure are somewhat minimal. Still an excellent wine that’s very enjoyable. This was also one of the higher priced bottles we had, with everything being between $9 and $18, this particular one came in at $15.

Overall, the wines in this middle group are all very enjoyable with solid fruit and good balance across the board. Some of them were pleasant surprises, like the Red Bicyclette and the Marquis de la Tour, but the Vin Gris and the Vanda were definitely good contenders for the top block. This time I promise to deliver the final selection of top rose from our little partay soon.