World renowned “Iron Chef” Masaharu Morimoto still beams with pride when he remembers throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at a May 2003 Yankees-Mariners game at Safeco Field — ”a strike, of course,” he says. It was one of his first visits to Seattle, and Morimoto — who was a promising baseball player in Japan before an injury derailed his athletic career — started to form ties to the city from that point on. He befriended Mariner all-time great Ichiro Suzuki, and connected with the owners of the Uwajimaya market in the Chinatown-International District. As Morimoto’s star continued to rise and his restaurant empire grew into the double digits, the celebrity chef would return multiple times to the area, waiting for an opportunity to launch a new project.
Now, the highly anticipated Momosan Seattle is set to open on Thursday, across the street from Uwajimaya and a few blocks from the ballpark. It’s the third outpost of Morimoto’s ramen and izakaya restaurant, and his 17th restaurant overall (an 18th is coming this fall with Morimoto Kyoto).
Like the two other Momosan Ramen and Sake locations in New York and Waikiki Beach, ramen is naturally the main event at the new Seattle restaurant, including silky tonkotsu, spicy tan-tan, and Eater NY critic Robert Sietsema’s top pick, tsukemen, which separates broth from noodles. But patrons can expect plenty of other options in the encyclopedic menu (seriously, it has diagrams of the pig parts used in various dishes, along with a short history of ramen and a sake temperature guide). There are pan fried pork gyoza in scallion ginger sauce, duck fat french fries, wagyu cooked tableside, and seared jellyfish with yuzu soy — a Seattle exclusive to the Momosan franchise.
Chef Morimoto and his team also expect to make good use of the roomy, open kitchen, with a yakitori grill serving up 14 different kinds of Japanese skewers, including beef intestines, chicken gizzards, and pork belly in a teriyaki glaze. Those looking for more shareable snacks can find flash fried frogs legs and grilled pig’s feet with kochujang sweet miso. Oh, and a few sushi rolls, too, just to cover all the bases.
Unsurprisingly, the chef’s imprint is everywhere, from the silver chandeliers hanging over the upstairs bar, to the shelves stocked with Japanese toy robots, which he thought would be a playful touch. Morimoto even designed the labels to his signature sake from the Fukumitsuya brewery in Ishikawa, Japan. That heads up an extensive drinks list, which includes signature beers (in collaboration with Oregon’s Rogue Ales), cocktails such as shochu sours, and Japanese whisky. Once the restaurant gets into a rhythm, Morimoto is even considering keeping the bar area open late (right now Momosan will be open for dinner from 5 p.m. - 11 p.m.).
Flexibility appears built into Momosan’s design. The cavernous bi-level restaurant— located in the historic Publix building — is striking in all its clean lines and stark metallic accents, but also has a loose, casual vibe. There are two separate entrances on opposite sides, along with communal tables and plenty of spots where diners can see the kitchen in action. There’s an outdoor area right next to neighboring Dough Zone Dumpling House that may turn into patio seating sometime in the future. The restaurant won’t take reservations — it’s first-come, first-serve only. So expect a wait when the doors open Thursday.
Meanwhile, this little corner of the International District is quickly becoming one of Seattle’s top dining destinations in itself. Not only is there the aforementioned Dough Zone nearby, but the buzzy Filipino coffee shop Hood Famous Cafe and Bar is in the same building as Momosan, the wildly popular Dochi doughnuts is drawing crowds across the street, and the acclaimed Sichuan chain Chengdu Taste looks to be on the way to Publix. Morimoto’s new spot promises to be a heavy hitter in a potent lineup.