I've passed Moto many times with interest. It looks very commercially designed with banners featuring the chef's smiling visage looming over an array of his "fusion" dishes. It's a bit inset from the street so the orange also helps attract attention like children to a gingerbread house.
I don't write reviews of a place I've been to only once. This case is different because there were systematic and technical failures in their dishes that I can't simply attribute to "someone having a bad day." I was probably testing my luck too much after having had several successful dining experiences at Earl Sushi Bar. Moto was a devastating and pointlessly expensive dining experience.
The interior is surprisingly smaller than how it appears from the outside. It's dark and looks like a typical izakaya. There's a sushi bar as you enter, but they offer a wide variety of Japanese foods. Their menu is translated very poorly into English, and that's honestly not an issue for me as long as I can understand the Korean. It's too bad I don't understand fish species in Korean.
Before I grind my heels down and rip into the aspects of Moto I didn't like, I'll start with what I did like: the waitress and the pickles. The waitress was very attentive and took time to explain textures and tastes of the fish I was not familiar with. This might not be useful to some people though since she doesn't speak English. The pickles helped us stave our appetites as we waited for our food. While I used to get flustered when pickles would magically appear at every meal (mmm...pickles and spaghetti), I actually started enjoying them. These cucumber pickles were fresh and crisp with a bit of heat from the jalapenos.
The first dish we had was a nigiri platter. It comes with a variety of different fish, squid, and octopus. They were willing to accommodate us and substituted all the weird fish, squid and octopus with more salmon.
The cuts were beautiful. There is some serious knife skill going on back there. Even the white fish was fileted to have little tails. I also appreciated that they use the right portion of rice. Most restaurants use too much rice in an effort to bulk up the nigiri, especially in America. I usually have to cut off half the rice under the nigiri in order to enjoy the fish properly.
Too bad the nigiri tasted blahhh.....My first gripe is that the salmon was frozen. Not previously frozen but ice-crystal-y FROZEN on the rice.
The local Korean white fish was chewy and had no flavor. It's just not the right kind of fish to throw on a bed of rice and call a nigiri. It needs to be served with a spicy red pepper sauce on some 회덥밥 (hwe-dup-bap). I cannot support this lazy version of "fusion" where a local Korean fish is passed off as nigiri. It just didn't make sense, and it tasted sub-par.
We ordered yakisoba in hopes of satiating our appetites and appeasing the horrid taste in our mouths from crunching on frozen salmon and blandly chewy fish.
The yakisoba was made of ramen noodles. Not the thick, Japanese kind either. Instant ramen noodles. If this is "fusion," I now understand fusion to mean cheap cop-outs to authentic cuisine. The unforgivable part was the taste. The sauce tasted bitter like the pan hadn't been cleaned properly and the burned bits from whatever was cooking in it before were just integrated into the dish. The sauce was watery, and the noodles had absolutely no flavor past the bitter, charred bits. It was terrible.
|Ramen noodles in a bitter, watery sauce.|
In the end, we left here having spent about 30,000 won for the two dishes. It's not terribly expensive, but I've had better dining experiences at Pizza School for 5,000 won. Fusion restaurants in Korea usually means you'll be staring at your dish with WTF written across your face. In the end, I felt that using the name Moto was an utter disgrace to the innovative and environmentally-resposible Moto in Chicago. On a side note, I highly recommend Moto's Chef Omar and Chef Ben's TedTalk about "The Future of Food".