Few high-end chefs tend to shift their culinary approach mid-career—especially to go more downscale. But Masaharu Morimoto has been such a darling of the U.S. culinary scene, with nine restaurants currently and another two slated to open in Las Vegas and Hawaii, that he can take the risk. He opened Tribeca Canvas late last year as a homestyle restaurant that offers an Asian-inspired take on American comfort food.
Located in the trendy Tribeca area of downtown New York, Canvas is not far from his original restaurant Morimoto in the Chelsea neighborhood. The name of the new venue is inspired by the “hand-painted canvases that are hung across the restaurant,” according to the chef and owner, who is also known as the star of the reality TV cooking show Iron Chef and Iron Chef America.
LOOKING BEYOND JAPAN
The chef does touch on some Japanese-influenced dishes, such as Miso Sea Bass for $31. Morimoto also offers his own sake line by the glass and bottle, which is priced from $11 to $28 for a 5-oz. pour and $50 to $125 for a 720-ml. bottle.
But Japanese culinary and drink traditions are hardly the focus. “We are creating a bistro-style menu that focuses on my intrepreation of Western-style ‘comfort food,’ rather than on sushi,” Morimoto says.
Drinks are a big part of the culture as well. “The beverage program focuses on a selection of seasonal specialty cocktails that pair well with the dishes, as well as large selection of local beers that pay homage to New York City,” he notes.
Tribeca Canvas offers innovative cocktails at reasonable prices for the city—think $13 to $14. Drinks include the refreshing Causual Encounter, made with Crop Cucumber vodka, ginger and lemon and the Ishikawa Cooler is made with the chef’s sake, Lillet and Sprite and priced at $13.
The wine list is short and focused, featuring primarly wines from California and France. A handful of Argentinean, Spanish, German and Italian selections round out the offering.
Much of the wine list focuses on lighter-bodied reds, such as pinot noir, as well as sparkling wines and sauvignon blancs that pair well with the food. Wines are priced from $7 to $18 by the glass and $32 to $320 by the bottle.
Tribeca Canvas’s bistro-style menu offers guests a handful of Japanese-inspired dishes, such as the Sashimi Caesar Salad, priced at $16. The petite Hamachi Tacos ($11) show how Japanese and Mexican foods can blend in a New York setting.
A handful of dishes also play on other Asian flavors, such as the steamed lamb raghu buns, served with pickled daikon and the Indian yogurt-based dipping sauce raita ($11).
Morimoto also mixes Italian influences with Japanese food references, in dishes such as the Uni Carbonara ($19), made with angle hair pasta, pancetta and quail egg. Most of the dishes are easy to share and meant for group dining.
Considering that much of Japanese cooking—albeit little of what is seen abroad—is focused on homestyle dishes, it’s interesting to see how a classic, high-end sushi chef translates the concept for his New York clients.Since this Iron Chef is renown for his integration of Western and Japanese ingredients, it’s likely to succeed.