Monday, October 12, 2015

Japonais by Morimoto

During the Chicago portion of our summer road trip, we spent a good portion of our time hanging out with A's family. On one of those nights, we went out for a nice family dinner as a replacement for holiday meals since it's so hard for all of us to get together during that time. The place was Japonais by Morimoto, a place we knew about but had never tried before. We aren't anywhere near up to this in recapping our road trip, but we saw the other day some news that Japonais was closing. Their last day was this weekend, so we figured we would jump ahead a little bit and talk about Japonais as a way of bidding it farewell.

Japonais by Morimoto was in a giant space on Chicago Avenue right by the river. It felt very luxurious, with its plush banquettes, large tables, and wide aisles. The menu was similarly pretty large, with an entire listing of sushi and sashimi, as well as hot entrees, and appetizers of every type. Since A's brother and sister-in-law had been to Japonais before, they picked all the appetizers to share family style and then everyone chose their own entrees. Here's a run-down of what we got.

XO Green Beans, pan fried with house made XO sauce ($8):

We liked these green beans. They were cooked nicely, and the flavor of the XO sauce was good. The thing we liked best about them was the fact that they were a plate of vegetables. After our starch and meat heavy diet the past couple of days of our vacation, it was so nice and it felt really good to eat a good serving of vegetables.

Pork Belly and Black Pepper Ramen Pasta, miso marinated roasted pork belly, homemade ramen pasta, tonkatsu broth ($15):

This dish was interesting. Once we tried it, we thought that it was obviously intended to be one of those fusion-type dishes, mixing pasta with Japanese flavors. The "ramen pasta" was like pieces of rigatoni in shape and texture, which was unexpected. The broth was probably the best part of the dish, with its tonkatsu flavoring and also pancetta in it. The server had warned us that this was a hard dish to share among 6 people, and he was right. It was simple to cut up and/or split the pork belly, but divvying up broth and other fillings, and making sure it was all mixed together well, wasn't that easy.

Brussels Sprouts and Black Sesame Hummus with apple puree, kimchee paste, bacon ($10):

The brussels sprouts came roasted with kimchi paste, and if we remember correctly, some tomatoes and bacon, along with two sides - black sesame hummus (which had an earthy flavor, but not much specifically that tasted like black sesame) and an apple puree (that tasted a lot like ginger). Both sauces matched up well with the roasted brussels sprouts. This dish was solid, and it inspired me to perhaps roast up some brussels sprouts with kimchi and/or gochujang soon.

Rock Shrimp Tempura with spicy gochujang sauce and wasabi aioli ($16):

We've had rock shrimp tempura before at Japanese restaurants, and similar shrimp dishes at other places like the bang bang shrimp from Bonefish Grill. It's really just fried shrimp with sauce, quite simple, but something about it is always just really good. This version of rock shrimp tempura came in a dish separated into 3 sections - shrimp tempura in a wasabi aioli, shrimp tempura in a gochujang sauce (which was closer to the style/sauce we've had before), and celery sticks with a house made ranch dressing. This was a well-executed version of it, and it was nice having 2 sauce flavors to choose from, although we weren't quite sure why the celery and dressing were part of it.

Sweetbread Karaage and Unagi, with balsamic unagi jus, braised daikon, micro arugula ($18):

The best parts of this dish were the daikon and the broth. I'm not sure how to describe the broth flavor, but it was excellent. The daikon was soft, like it had been boiled in the broth, as it had soaked up all the flavor. The eel and sweetbreads, whatever we actually tried of them (since this was another dish the server said would be difficult to share, and he was correct about that), were fine, but nothing really that special. The broth and daikon were great.

Morimoto Style Chirashi, 10-12 different fish and vegetables ($32):

This was the entree A got but I got to try a few bites. If you've never had chirashi before, it's basically a big bowl filled with sushi rice, raw fish, roe, omelet, chopped vegetables (in this case, cucumber), ginger, and wasabi. The fish/seafood was predominantly tuna, salmon, yellowtail, and shrimp. The quality of the fish was excellent, the rice was tasty, and all together, it just tasted really fresh and clean. 

Braised Black Cod with ginger soy reduction ($28):

After a very filling lunch (more on that another time), what I really wanted for my entree was something light and clean. (Seems like both A and I were on the same page about this one.) The braised black cod, which sounded like the miso black cod I've had at Nobu and other restaurants, seemed like the perfect choice, and it was. The fish came with some white scallions on top, along with some sides of sweet soy beans and purple pickled radishes. Some of the bites eaten with the soy beans were a little heavier, but for the most part, it was nice and light. It was a pretty safe choice, as this type of cod is a standard at a lot of Japanese places, but it was a simple, good dish.

Wagyu Fat Garlic Rice ($8):

Since my entree didn't come with any sides and was basically just a piece of fish, I ordered a side of wagyu fat garlic rice to share with A. Japonais had 2 types of fried rice - a duck confit fried rice and this one. This one was apparently newer and it sounded so good, so we picked it. When it came out, it looked pretty basic, but it was so rich and decadent because of the wagyu fat. In addition to the cooked fat (which seemed like meat, but was not), there were garlic chips and some scallions mixed in. Not as healthy as our cod or chirashi, but it was so good. So rich, but so good.

Hello Kitty - coconut doughnuts, vanilla gelato, morello cherry, passion fruit, crispy black rice ($10):

Our sister-in-law loves Hello Kitty, so it was no surprise that she was going to order the dessert named after Hello Kitty, no matter what was in it. When it came out, it didn't really look very much like Hello Kitty. I guess maybe the eyes and nose, but not the rest of it. We got to try a few bites of it after she was done with it, and it was really good. We really liked the coconut doughnuts, and the raspberry and passion fruit sauces were tasty.

Mango Pudding "Palate" - coconut matcha sorbet, sumi meringue, fresh passion fruit ($11):

We ordered the mango pudding "palate" although we're not really sure why it was called a "palate." Anyway, this had a whole bunch of different components to it spread all over the plate, and the passion fruit flavors were really good. Overall, it was a pretty light dessert with good flavors.

Our dinner at Japonais by Morimoto was good, and there were a lot of dishes we liked. Our favorites were probably our entrees with the side of fried rice. The appetizers were good, but the entrees were better. We're glad we were able to try Japonais before they closed.

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