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Published: Tuesday, 5/16/2006

Restaurants are Starr-style

PHILADELPHIA - A walk down Chestnut Street from Independence Hall may seem like a routine urban trot. Past the nondescript stores and even a kung fu place, it's easy to walk right by the neon yellow doors with the name Morimoto etched within the glass. Otherwise there's no signage for this ultramodern collaboration of talents from Philadelphia-based restaurateur Stephen Starr and an Iron Chef, Masaharu Morimoto.

There's the hustle and bustle of traffic amid the flow of pedestrians. But don't hesitate to stop in for a quick appetizer (it's best to make reservations). Open for dinner at 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and at 4 p.m. Sunday, the multilevel contemporary Japanese restaurant has illuminated tables that provide a visual and culinary experience.

At the rear of the restaurant, the sushi chefs are busy at the sushi bar. While there is a complete dinner menu, it's also a fun place to stop for appetizers or lunch, served 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays.

Among the most popular hot appetizers is the Rock Shrimp Tempura spicy kochujan aioli ($16) served with Belgian endive. The tartness of the Belgian endive, which can be used to scoop the lightly battered tempura shrimp, complements the crunchy shrimp. The traditional sushi California Roll ($8) is delicately flavored with black sesame seeds.

Besides the complete line of sushi and sashimi, signature items include Kobe Short Rib, the Morimoto Omakase, Morimoto Martini with sake and vodka garnished with Japanese cucumber slices, and for dessert Yuzu-Lemon Grass Panna Cotta. Morimoto Omakase is a chef's choice multicourse tasting menu, which is $80 and up per person. Beverage Omakase is a selection of beverages paired with each course, which is $60 and up per person.

Chef Morimoto spent six years as executive chef at Nobu restaurant in New York City. Since 1998, he has been the Silver Iron Chef on the Japanese-produced Iron Chef that airs on the Food Network. He is the owner/executive chef at Morimoto in Philadelphia. He also has teamed with Mr. Starr for Morimoto in New York and now divides his time between the two locations. When Chef Morimoto is not in town, Shuji Hiyakawa oversees the sushi bar, according to Emily Leveen, manager.

In the October, 2005, issue of Bon Appetit, the magazine's American Food & Entertaining Awards recognized Mr. Starr as restaurateur of the year. Including Moimoto, he has 12 Philadelphia restaurants, each with a different theme, and two New York restaurants. Two more are to open in Atlantic City, N.J.

Within the Starr organization is Washington Square, an American Brasserie restaurant, 210 West Washington Square, which is hidden between two buildings. It has an outdoor bar and a lounge with a South Beach feel and kiwi mojitos. Diners say that the Spicy Crisp Calamari is among the best. Crabcake appetizers are served with pea shoots and tomato chutney. The Roast Chicken is served with cheesy polenta, wild mushrooms, asparagus, and truffle jus. When it comes to sides, the Truffled Mac and Cheese is to die for.

There's Mediterranean cuisine at Starr's Tangerine, 232 Market St., with flavors and spices from France, Spain, Italy, and Morocco. At Buddakan, 325 Chestnut St., exotic Asia will greet you with a 10-foot golden Buddha and family-style Asian cuisine. There's progressive seafood at Striped Bass, 1500 Walnut St., with executive chef and author Alfred Portale.

All are high-energy restaurants, Starr-style.



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