I have been a fan of Chef Masaharu Morimoto ever since I saw him on the original Iron Chef series. The problem with shows like that is that you can see these amazing meals that are made, but you can’t taste them, even if you lick the screen. (Not that I would advise that.)
Almost a decade ago, I made the trip up to Philadelphia and ate at Morimoto’s restaurant there, and had a fantastic meal. Needless to say, when I heard that Morimoto was opening a restaurant at Disney Springs, I was thrilled. As soon as reservations could be made on OpenTable (an insider tip for finding Disney Springs restaurant reservations), I booked the first weekend available.
Morimoto Asia is a restaurant featuring pan-Asian cuisine, located in the old Mannequins Dance Palace in what used to be Pleasure Island. For those who are more recent visitors to the area, it is right across from Raglan Road and around the corner from The Boathouse (making that intersection probably the best dining in all of Central Florida). Upon arrival, we were asked if we had a reservation, and saw a long standby line for people who didn’t have reservations. There were no guarantees about getting in on standby, but they were willing to take phone numbers to send a text if a table is available. According to one of those hostesses, Morimoto Asia was booked solid for the next several days and some weekends, but during the week, there may be some availability.
Walking inside, I was really surprised how much you could see the old structure of Mannequins, and yet the elegance of the atmosphere was as far removed from a night club as you could get. Although there was no posted dress code, and people came in wearing everything from shirt and tie all the way to tank top and shorts, I personally would have felt under-dressed if I wore less than business casual.
At the table, our server Desaree welcomed us warmly and pointed out the Chef Morimoto was actually just above where we were sitting, working behind the sushi bar. In the days where so many places can license a celebrity name for a restaurant, seeing him actually taking an active interest in the opening of the restaurant really was impressive.
Naturally, the real reason we came was to eat, and although we had looked over the menu before we arrived, we finalized our selections while we took in the beautiful décor. One nice touch is that the children’s menu comes with three pieces of origami paper and directions to make a fish, a frog, and a crane. Although this may be a bit difficult for younger children, it kept my daughter amused watching her daddy struggle to figure out how exactly to make the folds for the frog.
We had decided to order a little something from all over the menu. First, we ordered sushi, because how could you not when the head sushi chef for the night is the one and only Chef Morimoto! We ordered two rolls: a California roll (with no avocado for the kiddo) and a vegetable roll with brown rice. If you eat sushi, none of the rolls on the menu will blow you away with exotic ingredients or outrageous preparations. But what we did have was light, fresh, and a quality preparation. I’d gladly take sushi prepared well with fresh ingredients over some bizarre combination of ingredients any day.
I had thought long and hard about ordering the Peking duck, but saw some other entrees on the menu that I wanted to try. As a compromise, we ordered the duck soup. Our server asked if we were okay sharing this family style, which had been our plan. It’s a good thing we opted to share this — when it came out, it was a huge bowl of soup. There was enough for three “normal-sized” bowls at least. This is certainly something to share, unless you want to eat that for a meal. The broth was flavorful, and there were fresh vegetables (carrots, itty bitty tomatoes, and what I thought tasted like potato, but turned out to be daikon radish) and herbs lightly cooked in it, along with many chunks of roasted duck. My daughter, who is an incredibly picky eater, loved the soup. That in itself speaks volumes about how good it was!
Next, we moved on to the main course. Originally, I had thought to order the orange chicken, but my daughter decided she would order it because it came with rice (with the sauce on the side, of course…picky eater that she is). Instead, I went with the wok fried shrimp with stir-fried Chinese vegetables. My husband picked from the noodles + rice menu and got the Singapore laksa noodle bowl, rice noodles, chicken meatballs, and a soy marinated egg in a creamy coconut and spicy curry.
My dish came out first, and the presentation was simply beautiful. It was light and fresh, with perfectly cooked shrimp and served in a crunchy bowl made of what I believe was fried rice paper (like you would have around a spring roll). In fact, if I had to describe the flavor, it would be like having a shrimp spring roll that exploded on your plate. It was simply marvelous.
The next dish that I tried was a bit of my daughter’s orange chicken. The chicken was cooked perfectly, and the rice was fresh as well. The orange sauce was delicious, but after several courses of subtle flavors, it was shockingly bold. This is not what you’ll get from a local Chinese takeout–no fake flavors here. This is a bold orange flavor, and if you are not expecting it, you might find it to be too much. When in doubt, order it on the side.
The final dish to come out was the Singapore laksa noodle. For those who say that there are no spicy foods at Walt Disney World, I suggest you try this dish. Thankfully, my husband likes spicy dishes, but one taste of the broth was enough for me. It has a great flavor, but it is beyond my comfort level for spice.
After all of this food, our server asked if we had saved room for dessert. It was quite the sacrifice, but one I willingly made. My daughter ordered the kid’s churro dessert, and it was the perfect size for her–four mini churros with some Nutella in the shape of a Mickey and a spoon of vanilla cream. All of the desserts on the adult menu are listed as desserts for two. For a brief moment, I thought about ordering two desserts — how much could it be, after all, but thankfully I thought better of it. We went with the MM Parfait, which has chocolate creampuffs, vanilla gelato, hazelnut chocolate crunches, sesame mocha, whipped cream, berries, and even an edible flower garnish on top. Think of it as the kitchen sink of Morimoto Asia. It was simply beautiful, and a lot of fun to try and finish. Although it says it is a dessert for two, three could easily split this dessert.
All good things must come to an end, and when the check came, we pulled out our stack of cards that offer discounts at Disney. Tables in Wonderland was accepted, so we used that. With that discount applied and the 18% automatic gratuity added, the bill for all the food I mentioned above came in at $99. We added extra to the tip. Our main server was incredible. Likewise, our drink server (and I am so sorry that I didn’t jot down his name, because he did an amazing job keeping our drinks filled and chatting with us about moving down from NY to the same area where we’re living) was also outstanding.
I have no question that, should I be able to get a reservation, I will be back to Morimoto Asia. With the quality of food and service along with the beautiful atmosphere, this restaurant may be the best bang for your buck on Walt Disney World property.