Philadelphia Trip, Saturday June 15, 2002 (Day 4)
This story features information about our trip to Philadelphia Pennsylvania. In this final installment, Bookbinders is sought (fruitlessly), parking is found — right in the middle!, we are served by the master and eat like royalty. Plus, A Question Asked, A Plan Revealed, Our Sincere Thanks, The Return Home, and The Business At Hand.
We got started at the crack of noon on Saturday (hey! — it is our vacation after all!). I had been told to eat at The Old Original Bookbinders, but after driving there, we were disappointed to see that they were closed. Maybe permanently — it was hard to tell. Still hungry, we ended up at a random Philly McDonald’s, near the huge painting of Ole Blue Eyes. The best part about our McDonald’s experience was that we were able to park in the middle of the street! We felt just like locals.
Before our meal started, I headed downstairs to the bathroom, because we’d seen it featured on MORIMOTO: R.A.W. on FoodTV and wanted to check it out. It was pretty neat.
As our food arrived, Mark took the time to explain each and every dish, answering any questions that we might have. Randall and Valerie visited several times during the meal to make sure that everything was going perfectly.
Our 10-course meal, with comments:
- Toro Tartar with fried & fresh scallions, osetra caviar, broth, with wasabi & Japanese mountain peach.
- Japanese Vichyssoise Chilled thick white broth with fresh-grated wasabi, topped with baby fennel, served with uzu (wedge of a small lime-ish fruit to provide ‘citrus essence’).
- Baby Abalone & Uni Sashimi This was one awesome part of the meal! Baby abalone is full-flavored and quite tender (unlike other Abalone I’ve had, which is like chewing rubber bands), and the uni was amazingly delicious.
At this point, I saw Chef Morimoto entering the restaurant. He was dressed in shorts, a Polo sweater, a ballcap, and his now-trademarked glasses. As he walked behind us toward the kitchen, someone asked him how many ribs he’d eaten as his function. Patting his stomach, Morimoto said, “24 pieces!”. He then disappeared into the kitchen.
- Red Snapper Sashimi finished with 300 degree oil over daikon slices, topped with white truffles and a mirin / soy sauce.
- Fried Ayu (sweetfish) Ayu is a large sardine-like fish. It is very tender, and has a distinctly sweet taste. This preparation had the fish opened down the spine, fried head & tail on, topped with shaved Bonito and greens.
Morimoto came out into the sushi area and took up his station right in front of us! He was all-business for several minutes, preparing several portions of Toro Tartar with lightning speed.
- Wasabi Sorbet with Wasabi Beignet — an Intermezzo to refresh us. The sorbet was both spicy and sweet at the same time.
When I told Chef Morimoto that we’d come from Cincinnati for our visit he said, “Cincinnati Reds!”, and proceeded to tell us that when he played baseball in Hiroshima that their uniforms were identical to the Reds’ — down to the “C” on their ballcaps! When I told Chef that we’d come specifically to eat at his restaurant, he gave us a very deep bow and said “Thank you very much”.
- Eight Spiced Lobster, Citrus Creme Freshe served with broccoli and carrots, this was a tremendous part of the meal! Half a lobster & a whole claw each, it was delicious. The level of spiciness was just the right compliment for the sweetness of the lobster meat. We could not imagine trying to eat lobster with chopsticks. Fortunately, we did not have to!
- Kobe Beef with Seared Foie Gras and Japanese Mountain Potatoes — Truly an example of Chef Morimoto’s wonderful cuisine, this dish combines the most succulent of beef with foie gras for an absolutely stunning experience.
Up to this point in our meal, we had a dining companion who sat next to Wendy. Tamela is a Philadelphia resident and this was the fourth time she’d eaten at restaurant Morimoto since it opened, as a way of giving herself a treat. We talked a lot with her, and think that we convinced her to try the omakase the next time she ate there. On our recommendation, Tamela tried the Wasabi Tiramisu — we could tell she liked it since her plate was clean! She lives in the same building as Morimoto; a high-rise apartment tower behind Independence Hall, though she’s never seen him there. She told us that she’d heard that Morimoto gets to the restaurant at 2:30am, works until 2:30pm, goes home for a bit, and returns around 7:00pm.
- Sushi Course As we were basking in the wonderful culinary experience we were having, we noticed the Chef Morimoto began to clear our settings. He took a small bowl, our chopsticks, and all of our silverware before setting down a small dish with a tiny towel in it in front of Wendy and me. We wondered why Chef Morimoto was bussing our settings, until we saw him cutting fish and preparing rice — he was making sushi for us!
He set the first piece down in front of us, explaining that we should eat it with our fingers, and use the tiny towel to wipe our sticky fingers. I said, “We eat this with our fingers?,” and he said, “Yes! Because I took your chopsticks!” and began to laugh. During the sushi course, I said, “Chef, this is delicious,” and he replied, “I know it’s good!”.
He served us each six pieces of sushi:
- Kohada (Shad)
- Saba (Mackerel)
- Tai (Red Snapper)
- Simi Aji (Jackfish)
- Toro (Fatty Tuna)
- Unagi (Freshwater Eel)
Chef Morimoto joked with us at this point in the meal. “There are two courses left,” he said, “dessert and check. The last course is my favorite!”.
Mark recalled that I’d mentioned at the beginning of the meal wanting to try the dessert sake (a mixture of plum wine and sake) and brought us two glasses of the sweetly delicious drink to enjoy with dessert.
- Dessert — At the time our desserts (Fresh Fruit & Sorbet in Lychee Juice with Pumpkin Brulee, garnished with braided gold and silver rings) were being brought out, Wendy was saying, “I cannot imagine how this evening could get any more perfect”.
This is where the story gets really good, folks!
I said, “The only thing that would make tonight more perfect is if you would be my wife. Will you marry me?” Then Wendy looked down and saw an engagement ring in her Brulee. Wendy’s eyes got HUGE, then filled with tears as laughter filled her mouth. She was giggling, crying, and turning colors all at the same time. No one in the restaurant moved — the sushi bar was still, the management team was standing silently by, and Mark & Valerie were holding their breath beside us; all waiting for Wendy’s answer. I leaned in and said to Wendy, “Is that a yes?”, and she smiled and said “Yes”.
At this important moment, I did what any red-blooded American boy would do when faced with a beautiful woman who has just given her consent to become his wife — I gave Chef Morimoto the thumbs up! Morimoto held up the “OK” signal and the entire sushi area — chefs, customers, servers, and staff alike — let out a loud cheer. There was much commotion, slapping of backs, and shaking of hands all around.
The ring was purchased some time ago, maybe a year ago, from Lou, a fellow animal-lover. My goal was to give Wendy a big surprise for her proposal, even though she knew that I possessed the ring. She was completely surprised, expecting me to be far too wrapped up in the whole Morimoto experience to be able to think of anything else.
Below left: you can see the dessert plate beside Wendy, and Mark, our server, behind us. Below right: Wendy, me, and Randall, one of the management team of restaurant Morimoto, and my partner in planning this event.
Obviously, this plan could not have happened without the assistance of the staff at restaurant Morimoto. I had called the restaurant about a week before our trip (we’d made reservations several weeks prior) to enlist their help in the proposal. Randall, one of the management team, returned my call the next day. I was told that we would be the sixth proposal at the restaurant. He asked me what I wanted the experience to be, and I said that I would like Morimoto to be involved in the presentation somehow. Randall said that it would not be a problem. I asked Randall if it would be possible for us to sit at the sushi counter, and he assured me it would be taken care of.
Randall & I hatched our plan… When Wendy and I were in for lunch on Friday, Randall would come to our table and introduce himself to us and allow me to figure out who he was, and vice-versa. When we arrived on Saturday for dinner, I would go down to the bathroom and Randall would meet me there so I could give him the ring, which he would take to Morimoto. Morimoto would do with the ring whatever he wanted.
On Saturday, when we arrived, Randall showed me to the bathroom (you didn’t really think I went down to check them out just because they were on FoodTV, did you?!). As we were walking the length of the restaurant, I pulled the ring out thinking I would pass it to him there and save him the trip downstairs. He said, quietly, “Settle down… Put the ring away. Go downstairs; we’ll be there in a moment!”. I went downstairs and a few minutes later, Randall and another member of the management team came down to get the ring. Expecting me to be nervous (I was), they offered to get me a shot of anything to help calm me, but I politely refused.
Randall indicated that the ring would probably come during the middle of the meal, and that he would cue me as to when it was coming. “Everything else,” he said, “is up to you.” In my opinion, this was a perfect setup. I knew in general terms what would happen, but not the specifics — these specifics allowed Morimoto and the staff to personalize the experience for us.
Before the proposal, Valerie, our sweet server from Wednesday night, came over and whispered to me, “I heard the good news! I’m very excited for you two!” and gave me a wink & smile. After everything was over, she posed for a picture with us.
As I mentioned, Randall said that he would give me some sort of cue when the ring was about to come out, probably by, as he said, “tapping your shoulder, or squeezing your arm”. I thought this was great, but little did I realize that Randall would tap my shoulder or squeeze my arm every time he visited us — and he visited us frequently! This kept me on pins & needles for our entire meal — each time Randall walked by and chatted with us, I expected the ring shortly after. This was a very funny thing that Randall did (even if he didn’t realize he was doing it, he deserves credit for it!). When it was time for dessert and the ring, Randall made it very clear to me that this is the moment.
For making us feel tremendously comfortable and taking exceptional care of us, Wendy and I would like to offer our heartfelt thanks to the staff of restaurant Morimoto. Special thanks go out to Valerie, Mark, Randall, and Morimoto. You four individuals made sure that our wonderful experience at the restaurant will never be forgotten.
The return home was fairly uneventful, I’m happy to report. We made it home in just over 7.5 hours. Not bad!
No, we haven’t set a date yet. We’re going to enjoy being engaged for a while and then do something small and private for our wedding. Expect a big reception, though!