As a Las Vegas local, I don’t frequent the Strip (even though I literally live directly on the Strip in a high-rise condo, and have been for over two years now). I haven’t been to all the hotels and casinos, and even for the ones that I have visited, I often don’t remember each one precisely off the top of my head. So, usually when I go to a hotel or casino, it ends up being an adventure.
Today’s dinner ended up being an adventure, as we went to Morimoto at the MGM Grand. Morimoto is named after Japanese chef Masaharu Morimoto, best known for his appearance on the Japanese cooking television show Iron Chef. Today, he has 13 restaurants spread across the United States, Mexico, Japan, India, and Qatar.
The environment of the Las Vegas location was pleasant, and it didn’t overimpose a particular vibe; it had nice Japanese touches while maintaining a core feel of being a unique but straightforward restaurant. Today is Thursday, and we’re in the tail end of a pandemic, so the restaurant wasn’t very busy, but I feel like this is one of those places where a high amount of bustling clientele would enhance the mood.
First up was the toro tartare. “Toro” is the Japanese term for tuna belly, the fatty part of the tuna fish. It was spread out as a thin sheet on a ceramic plate topped with some sturgeon caviar, and we were provided with a spatula-like scraping tool to remove the toro from the dish. It came with six condiments: nori paste, wasabi, sour cream, chopped chives, guacamole, and what I believe was just toasted rice cracker balls. It also came with soy sauce on the side.
I thought this was fairly underwhelming, both in taste and in portion size. The fish was nice, but honestly, my favorite part of the dish was actually the nori paste. At US$29, I would’ve much rather just ordered some regular tuna belly sushi.
Next up were market oysters. The oysters were tiny—about half the size of regular oysters you’d expect from a restaurant. They definitely tasted good though, and something I found very interesting about them was that they tasted much cleaner than usual. Usually, you’ll get at least a little bit of crunch from your oysters, but these almost seemed like they had been pre-shucked and purified, then replaced back into their shell. Half a dozen came in at US$24.
Our third dish was something a lot more simple: tuna pizza. It resembled a crunchy, hard-shell pizza, but instead of the tomato sauce, it was replaced with tuna. Toppings included red onions, tomatoes, olives, jalapeños, and something green that we for the life of us couldn’t figure out what it was, drizzled with some anchovy aïoli.
My impression of the dish was that it was extremely overwhelming in flavor. All the toppings—especially the raw red onions and olives—were fairly pungent and had piercing flavors, and it overwhelmed the taste of the tuna. After eating my share of two slices of the pizza, I felt as if, had the tuna been entirely missing, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed. The tuna pizza cost US$25.
Our only hot dish was next: kakuni. Literally translating from Japanese as “square simmered,” our kakuni was a square of ten-hour pork belly atop some rice congee, drizzled with soy scallion sauce. The pork belly was extremely salty and had a very strong flavor, but after mixing it in and eating it along with the rice congee, the saltiness was diluted a bit, which allowed the richness of the meat to come through. This was US$21.
With three cold appetizers and one hot appetizer out of the way, it was time for the main dish. Considering that this is a famous restaurant under the brand name of a famous chef, we figured that we would do a “chef’s choice” dish, so we ordered the chef’s sashimi combination. It was a 20-piece dish for US$110, so each cut came in at $5.50. The sashimi assortment had salmon, tuna, tuna belly, octopus, mackerel, flounder, scallop, and yellowtail, along with what I think might have been abalone.
As you can probably tell from the photo, needless to say, this dish was extremely underwhelming. No matter how nice the restaurant, there is no way that I can say each bite of fish was worth $5.50. Some of the sashimi cuts were unexpectedly thin. The sashimi was definitely high-quality fish… but it was nothing more than just high-quality fish. I wouldn’t say that any of this would particularly qualify as specialty fish that would warrant such a high price tag.
We went to this restaurant as a group of three, and with the very small portion sizes, my companions weren’t yet satisfied, and I was personally just barely getting started. So, we decided to give the chef another chance and ordered the chef’s sushi combination. At US$100, it was slightly cheaper than the sashimi combo.
This ended up being a far, far better selection. The rice was obviously much more filling than the fish, but the balance of rice and fish was good enough such that I feel like the fish quantity might’ve been just as much as the sashimi combo, so it’s as if we paid $10 less and got free rice to go along with all the fish. This was also a 20-piece dish, but it appears like each piece of nigiri counted as one piece and each set of six-piece cut roll counted as one piece.
The combo came with eel, shrimp, mackerel, salmon, squid, tuna belly, yellowtail, and tuna nigiri. There were two pieces of nigiri that I had trouble identifying, but I’m thinking it might have been parrotfish. The two cut rolls we received were tuna and shrimp tempura.
As I’ve mentioned throughout the whole review, the prices were pretty steep. But, apart from the tragedy that was my roommate forgetting to bring her ID with her and not being able to enjoy some alcohol, I’d say the overall experience was pretty nice.
I think that, as a local, I was particularly critical of this restaurant because I know that there are plenty of restaurants across the Las Vegas Valley that will reach 95%+ of this quality and presentation for about 40% of the price. But, if you’re a tourist coming to Las Vegas and want to experience eating a meal at a Morimoto restaurant for a special event, or even just to treat yourself, I think that it could be reasonable.