{ Morimoto }
Review and illustration by Beth Sullivan

The Entrance
table for twoEverything about entering Morimoto will intimidate you. During the two-block walk to the restaurant, you worry about someone breaking into your car, because you parked it on a side street and there are a lot of "We Buy Gold" signs on the storefronts you passed. Then you come upon the building that doesn't fit in among Philadelphia's standard, slightly run-down colonial fare. It looks like bumpy concrete putty with large, neon-green glass doors at the bottom. You are not cool enough for this place, you are not swank enough, not rich enough, but then you realize how many other uncool Philadelphians have probably eaten here. It is your last chance to turn back, but you don't.
     Hip hostesses greet you just past the entrance. You remind yourself not to care about what they're thinking as they size up you and your date; you're here for the food—neo-Japanese cuisine, to be exact. And you're here to see Iron Chef Morimoto in person, whom you just watched romp another contender from the Ohto Faction on television the night before.
     You attempt to absorb the sleek, ultramodern decor. You stare at the obviously expensive, seemingly pointless light display on the left wall. It looks like a huge holograph of a New Wave-y Japanese girl making funny faces. It's colorful, but you feel bad for the hostesses for having to look at the girl's face morph between her "I am hiding a small animal in my mouth, or I am about to whistle" kiss-kiss expression and her cutesy smile all night. (This display is replicated on a much smaller scale on the Morimoto Web site—www.morimotorestaurant.com.)

The Main Course
They seat you at a small glass table with a curvy yet phallic lamp rising from the center. The seats are white-and-black leather pods on poles—they'd fit well on the set of Sleeper, Woody Allen's 1972 parody of science fiction films.
     Your waitress is pretty and has an expensive-looking funky haircut. She probably worked at Urban Outfitters five years ago. Now she works for the Iron Chef. You sense she doesn't know whether you deserve to be eating food the Iron Chef creates. You've tried to make yourself look like you deserve it, but maybe you've tried too hard. If she's onto you, she hides it well. She tells you what dishes are good and what wine goes best with them. She almost convinces you to order two appetizers instead of one.
     You dissect the atmosphere as you wait for the food. Stephen Starr, the man responsible for Morimoto as well as six other Philadelphia Restaurants for Cool Rich People, said on a Morimoto television special that the atmosphere shouldn't hit you over the head, but rather should serve as a comfortable environment in which to enjoy the food. It's hard to keep the atmosphere from hitting you, though. The booths glow a new color every few minutes, the dishware resembles large white ashtrays, the walls are textured, the wooden ceiling curves in a flowy fashion. It feels rather like being in a futuristic tunnel, and it's strange how similar this vision of the future is to that of Disney World's outdated World of Tomorrow. Still, you think, this is neat and different. Maybe the future is now.
     The food is good. It is neo-Japanese. You eat Chilean sea bass, and your date eats steak with Wasabi sauce. The dishes are not as wildly creative as the ones Morimoto makes on the "Iron Chef" television show, but you knew they couldn't be. You'd both eat these meals again, but you say that if you ever come back, you will order lots of sushi. You pretend to be a Japanese actress on the show. You giggle and say, "At first, I didn't think I was going to like this dish, but it's very, very good!"

The Iron Chef
Throughout the experience, you watch Morimoto with his ponytail and glasses at the sushi bar. It is thrilling. You don't see television stars in person often, and when you do, they don't make food for you. Morimoto doesn't wear a weird silver jumpsuit like he does on the show, but instead sports a white chef top and baggy pants with funny patterns. At one point, he walks over to another couple in pod seats, and you are envious. Why do they get to talk to the Iron Chef? Then you realize that if he visited your table, you wouldn't know what to say and it would be awkward.

The Dessert
The dessert is wondrous. It is the best dessert ever. It has three kinds of chocolate and some rum and maybe some other sauce, and it is creamy and fluffy in all the right places. "We have the best pastry chef in the city," your waitress says, and while you've maybe eaten dessert at one other city restaurant, you agree with her.

The Bill
With tip, it's $128. You expected such damage, so it's okay. You fill out the feedback card and write your email address on it so that Morimoto can send you special email messages. In the Comments section, you write: "Great food and service!" And you mean it: you'll keep Morimoto in mind for your next outrageous restaurant excursion.

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