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The Duck, Duck, Duck entree features duck fried rice, a fried duck egg, duck confit, duck meatball soup and duck breast with citrus jam.

Chef Cachet

by Jen Karetnick | Photography by Michael Pisarri | Miami magazine | December 22, 2014

While promoting his TNT show, On the Menu, some weeks back, Emeril Lagasse made headlines when he told journalists: “I can’t charge $300 a person in my restaurant or I would not be in business.” The quote got heavy traction, but I don’t think—in fact, I know—Masaharu Morimoto, possibly the world’s first superstar chef due to his appearances on Iron Chef and Iron Chef America, would agree. After all, Morimoto has been successfully expanding his luxe empire in locales as diverse as Mexico City and Maui, and after I dined at his gorgeous 180-seat indoor-outdoor flagship Miami restaurant, Morimoto South Beach at the Shelborne Wyndham Grand, after its early October opening, I could see firsthand that not only will people indeed pay $300 per patron in the establishment of a celebrity chef, they will do it with inimitable glee.

One evening I witnessed it over and over again as the guests at the table next to us ordered the A-5 wagyu steak, which is a 3-ounce minimum order, three times in a row. The kidney-shape piece of Japanese Black beef—the highest possible grade of both yield and quality—is at least as much pillowy fat tissue as tender meat fiber. It arrives sizzling on a hot rock in a potent but sweet jus distilled from lily family cousins, onion and garlic. The gentleman neighboring me savored each bite, but as soon as he finished devouring one, he ordered another, much to the amusement of his girlfriend, not to mention the server and us.

To be honest, I have no idea if Steak Guy went for a fourth round because at that moment we were doing our own annihilation of Pastry Chef Manabu Inoue’s molecular gastronomic fiery salty caramel chocolate tart dessert course. Like many of Inoue’s imaginative concoctions, this one is interactive: It includes an outer weave of chocolate that dissolves like an alien planet under fire when a shot of Bacardi rum is applied; though I confess my favorite part is the sorbet comprised of 70 percent dark chocolate. We departed that night soon after, though not before making reservations, before dinner even ended, to come back the following week. But judging by the Steak Guy’s very vocal appetite and appreciation for this particular entree, it’s not a stretch to guess he went for an A-5 home run.

If that were indeed the case, I wouldn’t blame him. After trying it myself, however, I’d have to give him credit for strength of stomach. For many foodies, the A-5, like the king crab leg appetizer made with an aioli of fermeted soybean, rice and chili paste, or the uni carbonara (handmade udon with sea urchin, bacon and quail egg), is rich enough to satisfy at the first or second bite. Indeed, many dishes, including the Morimoto bone marrow, the oyster foie gras (comprising, yes, both oysters and foie gras, as well as sea urchin for added emphasis) and the kakuni—a pork belly cooked for 10 hours with rice congee—are opulent enough to grace the tables of ancient feudal lords, and solve their differences too.

Still, nothing I’ve sampled at Morimoto South Beach—even those items that likely appear on every menu in each of his restaurants—scream old, tired or just plain weird, even when they sound completely odd or unpalatable. Instead, each is composed with very specific care, using the most prime ingredients. You may secretly wish, going in, to find some flaw, and I’ve read plenty of reviews from critics in other cities who really, really want that to happen. But no matter where Morimoto opens up, it seems the Iron Chef experience, in the end, is nothing less than you should expect from such a globally renowned chef: technically exceptional.

Even the design, overseen by the aptly named Glamorous Group of Tokyo, is spot on, a marriage between Morimoto’s requests—sushi bar running the full length of the restaurant like a stage, so all patrons can watch the action—and the firm’s vision of the tropics. Thus the bronze, pink and gray palette of the interior flows flawlessly east toward a blue and green exterior with a pool and, beyond that, the ocean. A large bar, over which hang stunning chandeliers, and a lounge where patrons await their tables, demarcate the tile floor of the restaurant and the pool deck, so that there’s no real mistake as to where Morimoto South Beach ends and Oasis Grill, the outdoor restaurant from the hotel, begins.

As for the dishes, the waitstaff is well-versed, parroting Morimoto’s spirited East-West epicurean signature cold starters, including hamachi tacos seasoned with serrano peppers and tempered with avocado; wagyu tartare, differentiated from regular tartare not just by the quality of the beef but by the use of a soft-boiled egg instead of a raw one; and raw tuna pizza crisscrossed with pungent anchovy aioli and studded with olives and slices of jalapeno peppers. Morimoto sashimi terrine is also a crowd-pleasing favorite, with seared chu toro (medium-fatty bluefin tuna), smoked salmon, eel, tuna and hamachi layered on top of each other, then sliced neatly into a half-dozen bite-size pieces. These are served with five pipettes of sauces, all characterized by the traditional would-be accompaniments of the individual components: sweet, salty, gingery, herbal and spicy. Personally, I enjoyed this dish like an intriguing mathematical equation (and, yes, some writers actually do like math problems), but that might just be because I took each piece apart to see how each component tasted with each sauce.

But there are also items comprised especially for the South Beach locale, including a reinvention of a succulent ceviche made with lobster and conch. In the end, it doesn’t really matter if you order what you might think are the clich├ęs or the more outlandish choices. We’ve enjoyed everything from the tempura calamari salad—which features an addicting white miso dressing and an almost-secret crunch from fried quinoa hiding within the greens—to the Morimoto South Beach chilled noodle, which carries a garlic-chile oil punch akin to one of my all-time favorite Chinese dishes, dun-dun noodle. Made with ground pork and inaniwa noodles, which are a labor-intensive, hand-kneaded, very thin type of wheat-flour udon, this latter dish gets my vote—along with the duck confit fried rice and the ishi yaki buri bop, yellowtail cooked on kitchen staff-polished rice at your table in a hot bowl—as one of the restaurant’s best.

As for the ultimate question, whether Morimoto himself is ever in the house, the answer is yes. Not often, but occasionally. Like any other chef-restaurateur, his work schedule accommodates visits to his establishments to ensure that operations are running smoothly and to his quality-control satisfactions. When he is in town, he not only makes the rounds in the dining room, he gets his hands dirty in the kitchen. I can’t speak for his behind-the-scenes personality, but I’ve witnessed his public persona. He graciously poses for photos, happily breaks open ceremonial casks of sake and cheerfully bows in every diner’s general direction. You’ll never see a more grateful celebrity chef who’s highly aware of his good fortune, one who wants to ensure that everyone who eats at his place of business leaves feeling indebted for the opportunity to partake in some delectably historic gastronomy.

Morimoto South Beach
Shelborne Wyndham Grand
1801 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305.341.1500

Raw bar and maki, $5-$160; cold appetizers, $12-$429; hot appetizers, $8-$28; salads, soups and noodles, $8-$22; entrees and steaks, $26-$80; sides, $6-$14; desserts, $9-$20

Dinner: Sun.-Thu., 6pm-midnight; Fri.-Sat., 6pm-1am

End of the Hall
Like many Miami Beach resorts, the Shelborne Wyndham Grand is long and narrow, and Morimoto South Beach is located toward the very end of the resort. Just keep walking; you’ll find it.

Decisions, Decisions
You might expect the Omakase multicourse tasting menu to cost you a Rumpelstiltskin-type of fee, but it’s really not overpriced at $140 per person. The house recommends the entire table ordering it if one person does.

Cocktail Culture
If aged sakes and Japanese whiskeys are your thing, prepare to get fired up. The after-dinner drinks menu holds some real gems.

Tea Tops
It’s not all about the firewater. Morimoto offers his own curated selection of teas. We particularly like Kusmi’s Russian Morning No. 24, a blend of Ceylon, Chinese and Indian teas.