Orlandoans are all too familiar with the absentee celebrity chef, so when Masaharu Morimoto announced his intent to open Morimoto Asia in Disney Springs, the general consensus was that we'd see the Iron Chef once, maybe twice, in a year and that would be that. But to Morimoto's credit, he's spent more than the required amount of time at his Disney outpost since opening this palatial paean to pan-Asian fare last fall, and for good reason. "I will be at Morimoto Asia as often as my busy schedule allows because I love Orlando," the ponytailed superstar told me, but he continued, "and my wife loves Mickey Mouse!" Happy wife, happy life, goes the saying; no one grasps the adage more than Morimoto.
As I gazed up at the spectacular chandeliers the first time I entered his restaurant, I fully expected a Hattori Hanzo-wielding blonde in a yellow jumpsuit to swoop down that grand staircase and take a swipe at my chops. Luckily for me, the knife-wielders at Morimoto Asia have been specifically instructed to slice and dice morsels of raw fish, not paying customers.
Sushi, like a wonderful roll of Japanese yellowtail ($12) or sashimi of ethereal otoro (market price), might not hold prominence on the menu, but it's not as if the sushi is fashioned by the Crazy 88s. Seafood – be it sushi, rock shrimp tempura served with a gochujang aioli ($16) or braised black cod with a sweet ginger soy glaze ($32) – is an utter delight. Check that: an utterly expensive delight. Wallets will crimp – even an upgrade to real wasabi (instead of horseradish) will run you $10.
Pricey Peking duck ($48) isn't carved tableside or served in the traditional three-course manner, but it's a deliciously plated plate of deliciousness. The skin is sublimely crisp; the breast like butter; and the legs sweet and meaty. We did the pancake thing with hoisin (an apricot sweet chili sauce was also served), scallions and cukes, but ultimately found ourselves just eating the duck. Speaking of, the duck ramen ($16) with egg noodles is just as fowl, but a less costly alternative.
Our server suggested we try the wok-tossed orange chicken ($24), and it was a good, if safe, suggestion. (BTW: Don't expect to see dishes like fugu catering to an adventurous palate here.) The tempura fried chicken comprised a fresh citrus essence and the accompanying Chinese broccoli was perfectly done.
Dumplings with Napa cabbage, kale, carrots, garlic chive and tofu ($10) are a serviceable starter for vegetarians, though meat-eaters might want to kick things off with some ribs ($14). The meaty slabs – braised, flash-fried, then glazed with a sweet hoisin chili – were the epitome of succulence.
In all our visits here, service has been pleasant but not always polished (pacing issues, sticky residue on tables, sloppy water pours) or professional. Prior to being seated on our most recent visit, we waited it out in the Forbidden Lounge on the second floor. A manager pointed to the empty stools at the bar, but as we approached the seats, the chippy bartender said he was holding them for other guests. After waiting 20 minutes, the phantom imbibers never appeared, and the bartender, as dismissive and unprofessional a service staffer as I've ever met, never bothered to ask us if we cared to order drinks. So we headed to more pleasing climes downstairs, even as thoughts of the five-point-palm exploding heart technique played in my head.
Ticker detonation came instead in the form of an enormous parfait of cream puffs, sesame mochi, hazelnut chocolate crunches, vanilla gelato and copious amounts of cream ($20). Sesame balls with red bean paste ($8) are far less explosive.
For Morimoto Asia, it appears as though the hard part of getting operations up and running smoothly is over. They've wiggled their big toe – now it's time to get those other piggies wiggling.