If Philly cheesesteak is not your food of choice, or if you’re looking for a fine dining alternative in Philadelphia, at least there is a couple of names you can consider. One of the current Iron Chefs on Food Network’s Iron Chef America, Jose Garces, runs an empire of restaurants in Philadelphia area (Amada, Tinto, Distrito, Chifa, Village Whiskey, Garces Trading Company, and JG Domestic). Not only that he won the 2nd season of the Next Iron Chef competition, but also he received the James Beard Foundation Award for the Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic region in 2009 for his work with these Philadelphia restaurants. So you have some options there to check out.
Another famous chef with restaurant in Philadelphia is the Japanese Iron Chef from both the original Iron Chef Japan and the Iron Chef America, Masaharu Morimoto. Several years ago he opened his own restaurant, Morimoto, in downtown Philadelphia. It was quite highly publicized; Food Network even ran a special documentary feature on the process of opening this restaurant.
A couple of years ago I was working on a project assignment in Philadelphia when I found out that an old graduate school classmate and work colleague was also going to be in Philadelphia for business. We decided to meet up for dinner, and also invited another classmate whom we found living in the suburb of Philadelphia. Both of us are foodies (back when we both lived in Dallas we used to do an expensive pastime, sampling restaurants in the Top Restaurant List from Dallas Morning News’ Guidelive), and when I mentioned to him about checking out Morimoto, there was no hesitation at all.
The dinner at Morimoto ended up to be one of the most expensive meals I’ve ever had, but it’s also among the most memorable. The ambience of the restaurant was unique, and the meal was exceptional. We had high expectations after seeing Morimoto and his creative creations on the Iron Chef shows; we decided to go with the omakase meal (‘chef’s choice’ / tasting menu). They had three choices of omakase, at $80, $100, or $120 per person. The difference is in the quality of the ingredients used. We decided to go with the middle one at $100/person. Our other friend decided to go with a chef’s combination of sushi, sashimi, and rolls.
So here was the menu line up for us: toro (fatty tuna) tartare topped with caviar and fresh wasabi to open with, whitefish carpaccio thinly sliced with yuzu soy, hot oil, and mitsuba leaf as second course, sashimi salad with kanpachi (amberjack), micro salad, and vinaigrette as third course, a glass of apple mint soda as palette cleanser, grilled halibut wrapped in tofu with seaweed salad and miso beurre blanc as fourth course, wagyu (kobe beef) sirloin steak topped with trumpet mushroom and micro salad with dashi soy and hot mustard aioli as fifth course, toro (fatty tuna), hamachi (yellowtail tuna), ika (squid), tai (red snapper), and kisu (japanese whitefish) sushi as sixth course, and mint chocolate mousse cake with chocolate and caramel sauce as dessert to close. All were very delicious and beautifully presented, just like what you see in the Iron Chef show. If you wonder how I could remember all of these menu items — I had to listen carefully to our server’s presentation of the dish when each gets to our table, and then frantically typed in notes on my Blackberry to make sure I get it captured. In the end, it was an expensive meal, but I think it’s worth it if considering that it’s not just a meal, but it’s a complete dining experience.
The photo below was the dining area, taken from the lounge area on the top level while we were waiting for our friend to arrive. You can see very colorful and cool ambient lighting; it was even cooler when we noticed that the light colors gradually changed every few minutes or so..