Summary If you’re reading this to decide whether to eat at Morimoto, go ahead and make a reservation now. While it’s not Nobu or Morimoto Philadelphia, there’s a lot to like, at moderate prices. Order the Peking duck for the table.
Most people know chef Masaharu Morimoto from his time on the Iron Chef television shows. Others through his tenure at New York’s Nobu in the late 1990’s, or from his own chain of restaurants since 2001. Those places serve high-end, modern Japanese cuisine, at equally high prices – ordering the full omakase (chef’s choice) dinner can easily set you back $150 per person. We’ve done it several times, and it’s worth every penny.
Those prices wouldn’t fly at Disney Springs, and “modern Japanese” might be too narrow a focus for the Disney World tourist market. That’s why the menu at Morimoto Asia is pan-Asian, with dishes from China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Malaysia, and Thailand available, at a median entree price of around $15.
It’s a huge menu, too – more than 30 appetizers and 25 entrees to choose from. To cover as much of the menu as possible, some friends joined me for a 9 PM dinner reservation last Saturday night: our own Erin, Beci from MEI/Mousefan Travel, the lovely and talented Scarlett, and two of my favorite Disney food reviewers, Kendra and Mark. Kendra and Mark have two of the most descriptive culinary vocabularies I know, and I think you’ll enjoy what they have to say.
A couple of us had already been to Morimoto Asia, and together we brought 6 pages of research to the start of dinner. That research included everything from the typical seasonings in Shrimp Har-Gao (sesame oil, scallions, and soy), to the proper way to prepare L.A. BBQ Kalbi (marinated, thin cuts, across the bone, cooked fast, in 2- to 5-inch segments easily eaten with chopsticks), to the dark magic that makes Peking Duck so delicious (a 72-hour process involving a maltose-and-soy glaze).
One good thing I’ll say right up front: Every single dish we tried – all 30 of them – was prepared correctly, in the right style and at the right temperature. We may have wanted more spice in some things, or slightly different flavors or ingredients, but the kitchen seems to have got things down pat, right from the start.
To make it easy for you to find the best food, I’m going to organize our ratings into 3 categories:
- Things We Loved
- Things That Were Okay
- Things We Wouldn’t Order Again (a very short list)
Each dish has its own set of comments, which I’ll keep anonymous. Also, I apologize for the lack of photos. I was trying to do this without attracting management’s attention – they started following me on Twitter a couple days after I made our reservation – and 6 people taking flash pictures of half the menu would look suspicious.
Things We Loved
Crab Rangoon (appetizer, $10) – We wanted to compare this to the deconstructed version at Cowfish Orlando at Universal CityWalk. It’s one of Cowfish’s best appetizers and $2 more expensive there. Morimoto’s version is presented as spring rolls, which some of us preferred to the traditional “flower” shape. (“Superfluous wonton is not my jam” said one reviewer.) Even the non-seafood fans in our group enjoyed this, calling it a “lighter version of the classic” with a “perfectly crispy exterior.” The crab and cream cheese filling was well-balanced, and the apricot/sweet chili duck sauce complimented the dish well. There’s slightly more food in Cowfish’s version, but again, at a slightly higher price. Both are very good.
Hot & Sour Soup (appetizer, $6 cup or $12 bowl) – This became an unexpected, strong contender for Best Dish of the Night. The crunchy vegetables provide a great textural contrast to the egg and tofu within the soup base. The broth has a slow-burn spiciness which we loved; it was refreshing. The $12 bowl was big enough be shared by six people as an appetizer.
Toro Tartare (appetizer, $15) – Raw tuna served in a small bowl with chives, surrounded by soy broth. The soy countered the firm tuna texture well, while the chives grounded the richness of the fish. If you’re new to sushi, this might be a good “first dish” to help you get over that psychological hurdle.
Pork Dumplings (appetizer, $8) – Seasoned with garlic and chives, it was savory enough to not need the ponzu dipping sauce, but wasn’t overpowered by the sauce either. The dumplings’ wrapper was thin enough to not take away from the filling.
Shrimp Har-Go (appetizer, $8) – Shrimp, bamboo shoots, and seasonings, wrapped with translucent rice paper into bite-sized pieces, then steamed. The rice paper is very thin, so the wrapper isn’t gummy. Very well-balanced flavor, with a very mild shrimp taste. We’d suggest ordering this even if some of your group aren’t usually seafood eaters.
Kakuni Pork Bao (appetizer, $8) – This is braised pork belly topped with lettuce and spicy mayo, wrapped in two steamed buns. The cut of the pork belly was great – lean enough that the dish felt substantial, while retaining the intense flavor from the fat. The sauce on the pork belly was on the sweeter side, maybe a tad too sweet for some, but overall it balanced well with the pork’s savoriness. We wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more textural contrast, but the quality of the pork alone makes this a winner.
Morimoto Spare Ribs (3-rib appetizer $8, 12-rib entree $36) – We all loved these pork ribs, which come with a sweet Hoisin and chili glaze and are topped with cilantro. The meat is exceptionally tender, falling right off the bone. The glaze struck a great balance between sweet and salty. The full rack of 12 is a giant portion – each rib is pretty big, and you wouldn’t want to eat more than 1 or 2 as an appetizer. In fact, the meat is so rich that you’d want to split an entree portion among two people. We’re glad they gave us hot towels beforehand, and we’d like one afterwards as well!
Pork Shumai (appetizer, $8) – These are steamed dumplings, stuffed with mushrooms, pork, and shrimp (a mushroom-and-chicken version is also available). The mushroom flavor was mild enough that if you didn’t tell your kids it had mushrooms, they wouldn’t notice. The filling-to-wrapper ratio was very good, and all of the flavors were well proportioned.
L.A. BBQ Kalbi (entree, $28) – This was the favorite entree of the night for several of us. The meat was thinly sliced and cooked to medium doneness. Don’t be scared off by the gochujang hot pepper sauce, which wasn’t too spicy and added a wonderful savoriness to the kalbi. The kimchi was “glorious” and would make a perfect entry-level kimchi: mild but still tangy, without being too sour.
Morimoto Peking Duck (entree, $48) – If you’re the kind of person who, at Thanksgiving dinner, thinks the USDA should develop a genetically-engineered turkey made entirely of skin, then this is the entree for you. The defining characteristic of Peking Duck is a sweet, crispy skin. That’s commonly achieved through a 3-day marinade-and-let-dry process that coats the duck in a mixture of maltose and soy sauce. Morimoto’s version, served whole and carved just before presentation, is crunchy, salty perfection. The skin goes really well with the juicy, tender, slightly fatty duck breast. The duck meat is served with thin, steamed flour “pancakes” (like thin tortillas), with an apricot, chili, and hoison miso sauce. The sauce was divine when paired with the duck. It’s an incredibly rich dish, and it’s huge – we don’t think it’s a one-person entree. Better to make it a sharing experience for the whole table; everyone at ours loved this.
Morimoto “Buri-Bop” (entree, $24) – There are a few places in my hometown that serve these meals – a combination of protein (yellowtail in this case), rice, egg, and vegetables, placed in an oven-hot, stone bowl so that the ingredients cook in front of you. Kids seem to love watching it, and the crunchy rice at the bottom of the bowl even more. So it was a treat to introduce this style of cooking to some of the folks at our table. Everyone loved it, with several calling it the best dish of the night. It helps that it’s served tableside, which is always impressive. The sauce for this dish was the real star – sweet and umami notes that play off the richness of the yellowtail and runny egg. It’s a surprisingly large dish for the price, too. True story: As one of us reached for one of the last bits, Mark twirled his eating utensils from “chopsticks” to “prison shiv” in one smooth motion. We tried the Laksa noodles instead.
Singapore Laksa Noodle (entree, $12) – Rice noodles prepared in a coconut and spicy curry sauce, with chicken meatballs and a soy-marinated egg. Easily one of the best dishes of the night, described as “an absolute delight” by one of us. The coconut spicy curry was a great base for the soup. The chicken meatballs were cooked properly and didn’t overpower the noodles or sauce – if you’re a vegetarian, ask for the meatballs to be removed and the dish will still be great. The texture and flavor contrasts were perfectly balanced. For the price, probably one of the best meals at Walt Disney World.
Duck “Nasi Goreng” (entree, $18) – This is Indonesian duck fried rice, served with a slightly runny egg, mango papaya slaw, and shrimp chips. The egg protein helps offset what could be an otherwise dry dish. And the slaw isn’t just an afterthought – it’s a nice, acidic counterbalance to the richness of the duck and egg.
Chocolate Cream and Crunch for Two (dessert, $14) – We’re not sure it’s “pan-Asian,” but it’s still pretty good. The chocolate cream has the consistency of panna cotta: soft and creamy, like an airy yogurt, but still firm. Order it if you really like dark chocolate. The gelato definitely lived up to our standards. Comes with two fried Oreos, which are big enough to be shared (if your medical insurance covers it).
Chef’s Gelato Selections for Two (dessert, $8) – Three generous scoops of gelato, each a different flavor. Ours were pistachio; three types of cherry; and we’re pretty sure vanilla and miso, which probably qualifies as pan-Asian. They were all delicious, and good value for money. If you typically don’t order gelato or ice cream because they seem too simple, try these. Great, creamy consistency, served very cold.
Things That Were Okay
A note on these dishes. All of them were cooked correctly and presented well. If a dish ended up in the “okay” column, it’s probably because it either lacked one of the flavors described on the menu, didn’t come with what we’d consider the typical set of ingredients, or was simply outdone by things in the “loved it” category.
Five Spice Chicken Wings (appetizer, $12) – Perfectly fried, these chicken wings are topped with what looked like thinly-sliced, very mild jalapeño peppers. But like the five spice seasoning, the pepper flavor was perhaps a touch too subtle for the rich, fried skin of the wings. Again, excellent cooking technique, maybe just needs a seasoning tweak.
Vegetable Dumplings (appetizer, $8) – These tasted like most other dumpling we’ve eaten. That would make these a good “safe option” for people who don’t want to step out of their comfort zone, but lots of other appetizers outshone these.
Sushi (appetizer, Spicy Tuna Roll $10, California Roll $8) – The sushi rolls served in the main dining rooms are typical of any good-quality sushi restaurant in Orlando, but nothing special in either selection or quality. If you’re looking for high-end, try the omakase menu in the 14-seat sushi bar upstairs.
Hamachi Tartare (appetizer, $13) – Similar to the Toro Tartare above, but tasted slightly fattier. As a result, it could have used just a bit more chive and shallots.
Pho Ga (entree, $12) – Vietnamese pho soup is a staple in the Stewart-Testa household, so this was something we had to try. Morimoto’s uses a chicken broth base, with rice noodles, basil, and cilantro, and it all comes together in a very mild way. Pho is usually served with garnishes of jalapeño, sprouts, chili paste, and other ingredients on the side, allowing you to customize the flavor to your liking. This had no garnishes (perhaps to cut down on kitchen prep time), and that made the soup a bit too plain.
Beef Lo Mein (entree, $16) – Besides beef, the menu offers vegetable and chicken lo mein. These are stir-fried noodles with cabbage, carrots, sprouts, and scallions. The beef was well-prepared, and not at all greasy despite being stir-fried. The noodles had a light soy flavor but were not overpoweringly savory. It’s not terribly unique or innovative, but it accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. That said, we had plenty of lo mein left over, and it magically transformed into deliciousness the next day when reheated – “ten times better” according to the lucky person who got to take it home. So if you’re looking for two meals for $16, this is it.
Kung Pao Chicken (entree, $18) – Chicken, carrots, mushrooms, peppers, bamboo shoots, and cashews, all stir-fried in a spicy sauce. Kung Pao chicken is my go-to first dish for any new Chinese restaurant, and Morimoto’s is about average. The sauce is a touch more sour than spicy, with more than a hint of smoke. The chicken was nicely crisped and the vegetables still had a bit of crunch to them. There are more interesting, less expensive meat entrees on the menu, though.
Shrimp Pad Thai (entree, $20) – Stir-fried, flat noodles with shrimp, egg, sprouts, scallions, fried tofu, and pickled turnip, all in a sweet tamarind sauce. The flavors here were so subtle that we couldn’t discern many of them. We think it needed more umami, too, either with fish or soy sauce, and perhaps a bit more sourness. The noodles were on the firm side, which may or may not be to your liking.
Egg Fried Rice (entree, $8) – It was light and fluffy, but there’s only so much you can do with just rice and egg.
Cream Caramel for Two (dessert, $13) – A couple of reviewers were still undecided about this dish two days after trying it. It’s definitely an Asian dessert, with yuzu and sesame flavors, and would probably be the most challenging to many palates. The yuzu caramel overpowers the dish, but tastes very good on its own – perhaps indicating the dish could be prepared with fewer ingredients. The black sesame flavors in the cake and whipped cream help offset a very sweet and rich cream base. If you’re looking for a less sweet, more interesting dessert, this is the one to try.
Sesame Balls for Two (dessert, $7) – I think we all enjoyed the warmth and toasty sweetness of these sesame balls, but they were just a little too plain. The menu says that they’re filled with a red bean paste, but that was hard to detect. Might be better with a different filling or a sauce to dip in.
Things We Wouldn’t Order Again
Spicy King Crab (entree, $39) – These are steamed crab legs, served whole, and covered in an orange, spicy tobiko (fish egg) aioli sauce. It was cooked properly and all of the flavors made sense. Here’s the thing: eating whole crab legs is an inherently messy affair. Putting a sauce on top of them first just makes it messier and the crab legs slippier. The dish comes with its own steamed towels for cleanup, but we could have used a shower.
Spicy Thai Basil Fried Rice (entree, $12) – The big difference between Thai fried rice and Chinese fried rice is that that Thai version is supposed to be hotter and sweeter. This was definitely sweeter, but none of us detected even a hint of heat (or spices). Other than that, the preparation and presentation were correct. But there are so many better choices on the menu that it’ll be a long time before we try this again.
Fondue Churros for Two (dessert, $13) – These are sugar coated, extruded and fried dough sticks, served at room temperature with a vanilla sauce. They’re entirely unexceptional, and the last thing we’d order at Morimoto Asia. In fact, we spent most of dessert trying to figure out how churros ended up on the menu. Honest to God, the best idea we came up with was that having churros on the menu made for better Search Engine Optimization (SEO) on Google. To combat this, the remainder of our churro review is going to be a series of nonsensical, churro- and Disney-related phrases that’ll hopefully get ranked at the top of Google’s search results, allowing Morimoto’s to take churros off the menu. Since SEO depends a lot on external sites linking to content, you can do your part by adding a link from your site or blog, to this page. Here we go: Disney churros, Disney World churros, cinnamon and sugar churros at Walt Disney World, where can I find churros at Walt Disney World, Morimoto, Iron Chef, Iron Chef Morimoto, Disney Springs, restaurants at Disney Springs in Disney World, fondue, table service.
We tried several alcoholic drinks over the course of the meal. We liked the Kafir Lime Swizzle, which was smooth and not as sweet as expected with a rum base and hibiscus float; it was very drinkable with food dishes, as it didn’t overwhelm the palate with any one flavor. Also good was the Tom Yam Siam, equal parts sweet and sour, with a nice lemongrass, earthy note throughout. It’s got just the tiniest hint of chili, but nothing close to what we’d describe as hot. Other drinks we tried included the Singapore Sling (a little too sweet for our taste), the Hibiscus Sazerac (didn’t pair well with food), Manhattan East (bold orange flavor, not too sweet). There’s also a good sake selection.
Our server team at Morimoto Asia was excellent. About halfway through the meal, we realized that the team, led by Ryan, was pacing our 30-plate meal just perfectly. We always had one or two things to try at a time, so we could evaluate everything properly, and yet Ryan managed to get everything to us while it was still perfectly cooked. Great job there.
The bill for this, plus 7 alcoholic and 5 non-alcoholic drinks, was $581 with a 20% Tables in Wonderland discount, and additional $100 gratuity for our server team’s handling of our unusual meal.
Also note that Morimoto Asia is open for lunch starting at 11 AM, with much of the same menu. A shorter late-night menu is also available from midnight to 2 AM.
I’m not sure what our Unofficial Guide reviewer will say, but I’d give Morimoto Asia either 3.5 or 4 stars, leaning towards 4. There are many things to like on the menu, the kitchen’s execution is very good, and the issues we had with the items in the “just okay” list could probably be corrected inside a week. As I said at the top of this page, Morimoto Asia isn’t on the same level as Nobu or Morimoto-san’s other restaurants, so it’s never going to be a Victoria & Albert’s 5-star place, but it’s good, quality dining at reasonable prices. We’re looking forward to trying the rest of the menu.