Lunch Whistle Review: Morimoto

Editor's note: Periodically we're going to review lunch at serious restaurants all over New York. Lunch at these restaurants tends to be overlooked, is generally much cheaper, and in many cases doesn't require 30 days of precise military-style action to secure a reservation. So today's Lunch Whistle tweets about Morimoto.

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Photographs by Robyn Lee

Morimoto

88 Tenth Avenue, New York, NY 10011 (b/n 15th and 16th; map); 212-989-8883; morimotonyc.com
Service: Attentive and friendly
Compare It To: Megu, Soto, Bar Masa
Must-Haves: Roasted Black Cod Box, obe Beef Box, Chirashi Rice Bowl
Cost: $25 for a box or a rice bowl, tax, and tip
Grade: B+

By night Morimoto is a jumble of stylized images. When the dinner bell rings at six, impossibly thin and gorgeous men and women dressed in all black Armani convene to eat sushi, drink sake, and flaunt their stylish hipness at every opportunity. The place practically begs to be a location for Gossip Girl (and for all I know it already has been).

But at lunchtime, Morimoto becomes a relaxed, comfortable contemporary Japanese restaurant serving big plates of reasonably priced food made with top quality ingredients. It's a brisk fifteen minute walk from Serious Eats World HQ, so it has served as one of my go-to business lunch spots. Best of all, you can walk right in without a reservation—even if you're not wearing black designer duds.

It helps to have some guidance when ordering lunch at Morimoto, because if you let your eyes wander to the more expensive items on the lunch menu, you can spend a fortune without even thinking about it.

So how should a serious eater attack the lunch menu at Morimoto?

Go with the bento boxes and the rice bowls is my first piece of advice.

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The bento boxes contain a ridiculous amount of food. Each one contains little individual boxes and/or compartments of standard miso soup with big, beautiful pieces of cloud-like tofu, a fine mixed green salad with a an astringent kabosu vinaigrette, doughy, crispy tempura with an improbably delicious and decidedly non-Japanese blue cheese dipping sauce, a few pieces of fresh, sprightly sushi and sashimi, and a small portion of meat or fish.

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The Kobe beef box ($27) was terrific. The little dish of sweet and spicy kobe beef shards exploded with flavor. There wasn't a lot of beef in the portion, but there didn't need to be, because of all the other food in the box.

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Almost as good was the roasted black cod box ($24). The cod was satiny and ultra-rich. It was lacquered with a sweet brown glaze that would be a great color for an Armani suit.

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Eggplant parmesan and vegetarian sushi.

The vegetarian box ($19) was a bit of a letdown. The main component was a dish of eggplant parmesan (what, you didn't know that eggplant parm is a traditional Japanese dish?) that was an awful chunky mess. Someone in the Morimoto kitchen needs to go to eggplant parm school. But again, even without the eggplant parm there was enough food in the vegetarian box to feed two comfortably.

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The rice bowls were just as substantial in their own way. The chirashi bowl ($32) featured slices of ultra-tender yellowtail, golden-eyed snapper, and tuna, all cooked ever so slightly, plus daikon and myoga (a cross between a shallot and an onion) sitting on top of sushi rice.

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Red meat freaks seeking a fix should order the beef gyudon bowl ($18), a heaping bowl of Wagyu beef mixed in with nori and caramelized onions and a poached egg.

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One foray off the lunch box and rice bowl reservation ended in disaster. We saw a stack of big, puffy onion rings ($6) delivered to a neighboring table and decided we must have an order. We turned out to regret our impetuousness. The onion rings were dipped in so much sweet-ish batter they tasted more like zeppole. All that was missing was the powdered sugar.

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If you go with at least one other person (or even two or three others) order one dessert ($12) to share, because each dessert has multiple components that are actually comprised of two or three individual mini-desserts. The chocolate dessert looked like chocolate dominos without the dots: it was a soft chocolate ganache separated by three layers of milk chocolate on top of a black sesame paste accompanied by white sesame sorbet sitting on top of sticky black sesame goo. A sort of deconstructed apple pie was a caramel cinammon chibouste: a free-form apple souffle sitting on apple confit topped with housemade cotton candy, accompanied by vanilla bean ice cream and topped with red miso caramel. See what I mean? These desserts are literally a mouthful, but they are in fact mighty tasty.

So if you take a personal day and want to treat yourself, eating at Morimoto would be a worthwhile thing to do. And if you work anywhere within easy walking or cabbing distance (the walk from the closest subway stop is a schlep) Morimoto should become a regular lunch stop for you.