A dozen years after Masaharu Morimoto launched Morimoto Napa, his first West Coast restaurant, the “Iron Chef” was back in the Bay Area to inaugurate a more casual ramen-and-sake spot.
His Momosan Santana Row, which has just opened at the buzzy San Jose center, is the renowned chef’s first ramen shop in California and his sixth nationwide. Topping the expansive menu are nine types of ramen, including a limited-availability Gyukotsu with seven-hour braised beef rib; more than 20 hot and cold appetizers, including Morimoto’s signature twice-cooked Sticky Ribs, spicy Tuna Sashimi Pizza and Popcorn Shrimp with kochujang aioli; and a shareable, house-roasted Peking Duck platter with tortillas, hoisin and pico de gallo.
Morimoto’s signature sake, wine and beers figure prominently on the libations list, along with a creative lineup of craft cocktails featuring Japanese whisky, gin, sake and plum wine.
Next up is Momosan Brooklyn and, pssst, there’s a Morimoto Asia restaurant — that’s his pan-Asian concept — in the works for California. That one is also destined for Napa.
Clearly, the Iron Chef is a busy, busy restaurateur these days. But we managed to sneak some questions into his schedule.
Q: Where does the name Momosan for the restaurant come from?
A: Momo san is my nickname — Morimoto san shortened to Momo san. I chose the name Momosan because it reflects the relaxed atmosphere I want associated with the restaurant.
Q: How will Momosan stand out from other ramen restaurants?
A: The quality of the noodles is very important. I recommend that everyone eat their ramen as soon as it’s served for the best quality. I developed a noodle with my supplier, Sun Noodle, that does not become soggy as quickly as most. It maintains its texture, thanks to a special ratio of powder, flour and water that we came up with. It’s more than just the noodles, though; great ramen is a combination of components, including the bone marrow broth and the fresh ingredients used as toppings, like a soy-marinated soft-boiled egg, a spicy yuzu ball or long-simmered pork chashu. All of these pieces come together to create a flavorful, smooth and tasty bowl of ramen.
Q: When you come to the Bay Area for business (Silicon Valley or Napa) or pleasure, where do you like to eat?
A: I don’t have any favorites to call out but I always enjoy a nice steakhouse to take my team to or a new hot spot to try out new dishes for research and discovery.
Q: Here in the Bay Area, we’ve recently had a few Michelin-starred owners/chefs decide to step back from that arena. What does the future hold for fine dining?
A: There is undoubtedly still a future and demand for ultra-fine dining and the exquisite precision work of highly trained chefs. I feel that it depends on the brand and size of the space — guests will always be looking for an ultra-fine-dining experience and a more laid-back atmosphere.
Q: What do you see as the future of sake with U.S. diners?
A: In recent years, America’s interest in sake has grown, and I only see it continuing. Sake at all of my restaurants is always a popular menu item. We have 20 sake options at Momosan, including my Easy Cup Sake, made from premium-grade Yamada Nishiki rice, which has been polished to 70% and brewed with the famously pure Fushimizu water. The sake offered at the restaurant pairs nicely with our appetizers and noodles.
Q: In recent years, you started developing culinary kits for home cooks who didn’t live near your emerging restaurants. Which ones in particular have appealed to customers?
A: The most popular are the Sanyo at-home ramen kit, the Morimoto Mochi Donuts Kit I collaborated with Global Grub to create, and my Spice House spices. We have a new collaboration coming up with Sun Noodle.
Q: What’s the most common question that fans ask you about the “Iron Chef” shows?
A: Fans are always pleasantly surprised to see my real self. When I competed on “Iron Chef America,” I would be very focused on the challenge at hand and always wanted to win; it was quite a stressful experience. Now that I’ve appeared as a guest or guest judge on many different types of TV shows, I get to have fun and be myself without the stress of winning a fierce competition. The viewers didn’t always get to see the real me, so being able to laugh and smile more is refreshing.
Q: And here’s a final question for you that comes out of left field: Baseball! You grew up with a love of the game and might have found a career on the diamond instead of in the kitchen, if not for a shoulder injury. Do you follow professional baseball these days?
A: I still love watching baseball as much as my schedule allows me. While I don’t have a favorite team, I’ve been invited to throw out the first pitch at many Major League Baseball games, and I enjoy being back on the field! I also love to golf, and when my travels allow an extra few hours, and there is a nice course nearby, I try to make time to get out there and practice my game.
Details: Momosan Santana Row is open from 5 to 10 p.m. daily, with lunch hours coming soon, at 3090 Stevens Creek Blvd., San Jose; https://momosansantanarow.com
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