ML - Michigan Avenue

2014 - Issue 1 - Winter

Michigan Avenue - Niche Media - Michigan Avenue magazine is a luxury lifestyle magazine centered around Chicago’s finest people, events, fashion, health & beauty, fine dining & more!

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Page 77 of 123

TASTE A sushi platter from Japonais by Morimoto. Iron Men WITH JAPONAIS BY MORIMOTO, ACCLAIMED CHEF AND FOOD NETWORK STAR MASAHARU MORIMOTO AND RESTAURATEUR RICK WAHLSTEDT REINVENT ONE OF THE ORIGINAL RIVER NORTH HOT SPOTS. BY MEG MATHIS H undreds of restaurants have come and gone in the decade since Japonais made its debut, but the 10,000-square-foot space has continued to draw crowds. In February, the Chicago Avenue seeand-be-seen institution celebrates a new chapter with Japonais by Morimoto, featuring an updated menu by Iron Chef and Iron Chef America star Masaharu Morimoto and a new look courtesy of original Japonais designer Jeffrey Beers. As Morimoto and owner Rick Wahlstedt prepare to welcome diners back to the renovated space, the duo unveil the secret ingredients behind their collaboration. What inspired you to update Japonais? Rick Wahlstedt: Ten years ago, I took the concept of a small Japanese restaurant and blew it up into a lounge with music, and that was a bit revolutionary. Through the years, we've kept true to what we do. There's nothing wrong with that, but I want to bring this up a few notches. Masaharu Morimoto: I went to Japonais in the first year of the opening. I remember the elegant décor and menu, but I didn't imagine I would open Japonais by Morimoto in the future. What has the collaborative process been like between you two? RW: [Morimoto has] a great sense of humor. He's also very straightforward and no-nonsense in his approach. One thing he said to me is, "No matter how good I cook, if it doesn't get delivered to the table the proper way, it's a reflection [on me]." He is very involved all the way, and that impresses me. What updates are you making to the space? RW: Chef's going to bring his culinary talent out to the room. I wanted to make the sushi bar very exciting, so we are doing an omakase kitchen—an open kitchen, where certain things are for the Morimoto chef tasting menu, where you can see these guys work. We'll also have chef tasting rooms in the front where you can have a private dinner, and we're going to introduce a Japanese whiskey and an intimate bar with Chef's lines of vodka and beer. How are you creating Japonais by Morimoto's menu? MM: I would like to integrate Rick's sophisticated ideas with the concept of FROM LEFT: Chef Masaharu Morimoto rules the kitchen while restaurateur Rick Wahlstedt directs the atmosphere at this newly revamped hot spot. "Chicago diners appreciate culinary adventure."—MASAHARU MORIMOTO Japonais by Morimoto. The menu is based on the standard Morimoto restaurant menu, but I will modify it according to Chicago's local food and culture. I will create the menu based on the seasonality of each ingredient. All fresh produce, such as vegetables, fruits, and fish, have their best seasons. Especially with seafood from Japan, we have a variety of choices for every season. RW: The collaboration has been great, but I'm not telling him what to cook! His cuisine, presentation, style, what he uses—Chef does not compromise. What do you think sets Chicago's dining scene apart? MM: My impression of diners in Chicago is that they appreciate culinary adventure. Chicago is an interesting city that produced two great chefs: Charlie Trotter, creator of American fine-dining culture, and Grant Achatz, leader of progressive cuisine. I hope I will be able to entertain discerning Chicago diners in my way. What ingredient could you not live without? MM: Rice, the core ingredient for all Japanese dishes. In my restaurants, I care so much about rice. We buy brown rice and polish it with a rice milling machine on site to retain moisture. For sushi in particular, it is extremely important to cook rice correctly. Ten years after opening Japonais, what changes are you most excited about? RW: I've worked a lot with big chefs, and I'm excited about Morimoto—he has a commitment to us that is very strong. Japonais is something that's been so successful for many years that's very close to my heart, and to have a chance to work with Morimoto is really what I'm excited about. 600 W. Chicago Ave., 312-822-9600; MA 76 MICHIGANAVEMAG.COM 076_MA_Taste_News_Winter_14.indd 76 1/10/14 9:58 AM

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