Iron Chef Takes on Napa

Few can utter Napa Valley without conjuring impressions of a cool, comfortable temperate climate, rolling hills of planted vineyards, and a glass of the finest wine within steps of the grapes it originates from. But sushi? Not so much. Yet this countryside, infamous for its viticulture and notorious restaurants, has a new destination to add to the epicurious’ palate. World-famous Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto has embraced Wine Country, finding a home for his new restaurant, Morimoto Napa.

Selecting this West Coast outpost as Morimoto’s newest locale was an easy choice for the restaurant team. Morimoto’s long-time business partner Mark Stone states, “I think the chef is on record as saying that Napa is a culinary center. Food and wine are really important [here].” Situated in downtown Napa’s pristine riverfront, this modern Japanese restaurant changes your perception of wine country cuisine. Though Napa doesn’t typically elicit thoughts of Asian fare, that discernment is all right with Morimoto. “I want a challenge here. No one expects Japanese in Napa,” he says. But everybody loves it. Morimoto has received quite the reception from the local foodies, and San Franciscans have made the one-hour trip up to Napa just to dine at the restaurant.

Despite the oriental influence, the Morimoto team vows to stay true to the Napa region and support the local businesses. “When we first got here, we checked out a lot of restaurants, met a lot of the chefs, and tried to develop relationships with the local farmers,” says Jeffrey Lunak, Morimoto’s executive chef.

“There is a tremendous amount of great local produce,” Stone says. “We get a lot of products—not just the fruits and vegetables—from local purveyors. A huge percentage of the things that don’t come from Japan come from within miles of the restaurant.”

At the same time, it was important for Morimoto to stay honest to his roots. “I am not just doing Japanese. I am doing Morimoto, ” he says. Stone adds, “The chef’s philosophy is that all the restaurants are distinctive and different from each other. There are signature dishes that carry over from one to the other, but he wants them to all have their own character that is particular to that location.”

The result is a culinary collision of Japanese and Californian fare. From the exhaustive sushi menu to the unique and quirkily named entrees—Angry Chicken and Duck Duck Goose—the menu represents Morimoto’s cuisine while simultaneously pays homage to the restaurant’s hometown, with Napa specials like the sea urchin carbonara (udon noodle, bacon, urchin, shallot) and fig tempura (fried figs with peanut butter, foie gras sauce).