morimoto maui: the god of japanese fusion cuisine comes to the andaz

Morimoto Andaz Maui  (60)Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto is my culinary idol. The first time I watched him pound out an astonishingly rapid staccato with twin cleavers on his cutting board on the Japanese TV show “Iron Chef” I was hooked. So when I received word that Morimoto would be opening a restaurant at the new Andaz Maui at Wailea, this Food Network junkie’s heart was set aflutter.

I’d already had a preview of Morimoto’s seamless integration of Western and Japanese ingredients at Morimoto Waikiki, which opened at The Modern Honolulu hotel in 2010. My husband Charles and I, upon the suggestion of our excellent server, ordered the eight-course omakase (chef’s choice) menu, and we were completely blown away—and not just by the sophisticated flavor combinations. The presentations were intricate, artistic, and so, well, Morimoto-esque. We felt like the fortunate judges on “Iron Chef America,” and we gave him a perfect score. Topping off the evening was a photo op with Morimoto himself, arranged by our server.

Morimoto Maui brings a thoughtfully crafted lunch and dinner menu to a laid-back, oceanside setting at the Andaz. French doors create a seamless transition between an island-inspired dining room and outdoor terrace and bar. The decor is understated, yet cosmopolitan; the vibe sophisticated; the background music refined; and I couldn’t take my eyes off the gorgeous light fixtures: chic blonde wood swirls that resemble peppermint ribbon candy.

I’m accompanied by my friend Debra this evening. After a warm welcome from General Manager Cindy, who used to be the GM at 100 Wines, we opt for indoor seating. Server Shannon gives us a thorough menu orientation: “Our menu is meant to be followed in order. After you’ve looked it over, we can discuss.”

After we’ve made our selections with Shannon’s knowledgeable assistance, she brings us an amuse-bouche composed of roasted red and gold Kula beets with Surfing Goat cheese, accented with beet powder, macadamia nuts, pomegranate seeds, marigold petals, and microgreens. Not only are the flavors exquisite, but the presentation is so lovely it resembles a piece of fine jewelry.

For cold appetizers, we’ve chosen hamachi tartare ($28) and wagyu beef carpaccio ($24). The tartare is a Morimoto signature dish that Charles and I had had a variation of in Waikiki: fresh hamachi is finely chopped to a delicate texture and served on a small rectangular plate. Alongside is a sextet of accompaniments meant to mix and match—wasabi, nori paste, sour cream, Morimoto “guacamole,” finely diced Maui onion, and crispy rice cracker pearls to add a textural element. We use the stainless steel paddle to scoop out the hamachi and place it on our forks, then layer on the flavors for a heavenly mouthful. A bright red yamamomo (Japanese mountain peach), with its underlying sweetness and backbone of acidity, serves as a palate cleanser.

Next we dive into the carpaccio, made with wagyu beef from Australia. Thin rectangles of the most tender beef imaginable float on yuzu soy sauce with hints of ginger and sweet garlic. The beef’s silken texture contributes to a sense of pure decadence and luxury. I could have eaten this dish all night.

By this time, Debra and I have compared notes with three friendly diners at the next table who have ordered the Morimoto Omakase menu ($140 and up per person). They insist we sample the Morimoto bone marrow ($16 if ordered a la carte as a hot appetizer). It’s served Flintstone-style in a hollowed out half-bone, and prepared with teriyaki sauce and seven spices. It’s one of the most outrageously rich and delicious dish I’ve ever tasted, and I make a mental note to order it the next time I dine at Morimoto Maui (which will be very soon, I hope!).

From the menu’s soup and noodles section, Debra and I have ordered watermelon gazpacho ($13) and sea urchin carbonara ($20). Shannon pours the gazpacho from a pitcher over a mound of yuzu sorbet in the middle of a soup bowl. It’s an exceedingly refreshing dish with little pops of cucumber for brightness. As we share the gazpacho, the sorbet melts into the soup, bringing it all together nicely.

Next we pause to admire the sea urchin carbonara that’s been served in a huge round plate with a small circular indentation in the middle, as though the plate was designed specifically for this particular dish. Tender udon noodles are bathed in lemon butter cream sauce, with smoked bacon, English peas, crispy shallots, and a perfectly cooked quail egg on top. It’s like elegant, soul-satisfying Japanese comfort food. Wowza.

For entrees, Debra and I have selected ishi yaki buri bop ($39) and braised black cod ($36). The cod, which is served with a ginger-soy reduction, is so tender it melts in the mouth. A trio of dainty accompaniments—pickled Hamakua trumpet mushrooms, lightly picked bell pepper skins, and pleasantly astringent black olives—pulls the entire dish together.

Now let’s talk about the buri bop: it’s an absolutely stellar must-have dish. Presented in a stone bowl that’s been heated to 400 degrees, it’s cooked right at the table in the aforementioned bowl for a delightfully interactive dining experience. Our man Joshua places slices of yellowtail one by one on the sides of the bowl, where they sizzle and sear while he mixes up rice, vegetables, and an organic chicken egg with sweet sesame soy sauce. The aroma is positively intoxicating! The cooked pieces of fish are then placed on top of the savory mixture for serving. Debra and I realize this dish is more than special—it’s spectacular.

Shannon insists we try the xo green beans ($10) and we’re happy she did: lovely bright green beans are cooked to a perfect al dente and covered with a divine shrimp and scallop sauce. What’s not to love here?

Naturally, Morimoto Maui offers an extensive selection of sushi, sashimi, and maki rolls, which may be enjoyed at your table or at the sushi bar, where you can watch the chefs in action in the open kitchen.

For dessert, Debra and I have chosen the house-made sorbet/ice cream trio ($9). Three quenelle-shaped frozen mounds await our indulgence: yuzu ice cream with lime dust; lilikoi sherbet with gold flakes; and coconut sherbet with toasted coconut shavings. As if these delightful concoctions aren’t enough, floor manager Carly brings us the dessert from tonight’s tasting menu (not on the regular dessert menu). Miso-butterscotch ice cream sits atop a brown rice panna cotta that’s garnished with pineapple chunks and ginger snap crumbles. It’s the piece de resistance to one amazing meal at Morimoto Maui.

The Andaz Maui at Wailea is now two for two in the fine-dining arena. Its first eating establishment, Ka‘ana Kitchen (see the December 2013 issue of The Maui Concierge), features Chef Isaac Bancaco’s phenomenal cutting-edge cuisine. Now Morimoto Maui has burst onto the scene with brilliant Japanese fusion flavor profiles and dazzling presentations that make dining there a complete sensory experience.

–heidi pool

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