A First Look at Morimoto Asia, Disney Springs' Newest Restaurant

by Donald and Bonnie Fink, contributing writer

There's a new restaurant in Walt Disney World's Disney Springs—and yes, we can officially call it Disney Springs now—called Morimoto Asia. The restaurant is located across the street from Raglan Road Irish Pub in The Landing, one of Disney Spring's four distinct neighborhoods (the others are The Town Center, Disney Springs Marketplace, and Disney Springs Westside).

Chef Mickey and Chef Morimoto pause for a few images at the grand opening of Morimoto Asia. Photo by Donald Fink.

Our initial impression of Morimoto Asia? Wow!

When we walked into the room, we were greeted by a three-story interior. Dramatic glass chandeliers, two stories tall, hung from the ceiling. The main dining area was on the ground floor, along with a bar on one end and an open kitchen on the other. There was seating in the middle of the room for guests, as well as more private, intimate seating between the bar and the main dining area.

The main dining room at Morimoto Asia is spacious, spanning three stories tall with glass chandeliers. Photo by Donald Fink.

Offering a commanding view of the dining room below is a second floor loft with an additional bar, as well as seating on an outside patio, private dining rooms, and a sushi counter.

Our information tells us that there is seating for 474 guests, and if that's true, the designers have done a really good job of disguising this fact. It's big in terms of building size, but it certainly seems too cozy for that many people to fit in one room—must be the Disney magic at work.

You would think that with all the glass and raw concrete in the room, it would be cold and impersonal, but that's not the case. Warm and friendly are words that come to mind instead.

The sign on the top of the building housing Morimoto's Asia identifies it as the Springs Bottling Company, and based on the decorations on the inside, it is indeed an old bottling company. But as we know, everything at Disney is fully Imagineered to look like something else—and the bottling company is no more real than the fireworks factory on Pleasure Island. What it does do, however, is incorporate it into the Disney Springs theme of a renovated, reinvented industrial area of Central Florida.

Chef Morimoto (right) and a Sous Chef prepare a 160 foot long spicy tuna roll at the press opening for Morimoto Asia. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

The bar is nearly 270 long and spans two stories. At least, that's what the publicists are saying. And while it's technically true that the bar spans two stories, it's more of a decorating trick than a practical installation. What it means is that the upstairs bar and the downstairs bar are connected by an extension—a decoration made to look like the actual bar—but free flowing from the first to the second floor. It's not actually functional for the full 270 feet, but it's fun to see.

Masaharu Morimoto has been in the culinary business since 1980, when he opened his first restaurant in Hiroshima, Japan. Originally, he wanted to be a professional baseball player in the Japanese baseball leagues, but a shoulder injury put an end to his career before it really started.

He spent many years on the Japanese TV cooking show Iron Chef, then later on the American version of the same show, and has even made two appearances on Hawaii Five-O, and one appearance as a guest judge on Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen.

The kitchen is open to the main dining room at Morimoto Asia, where you can see chefs preparing meals. Photo by Donald Fink.

Today, by our count, Chef Morimoto owns or operates at least nine restaurants throughout the world. Most of them are considered Asian fusion cuisine, but this one in Disney Springs is termed Pan-Asian. And it's easy to see why when looking at the menu. There are dishes from all over Asia, including Japan, China, Korea, and Vietnam. There are also many dishes that appear to be Western-inspired, which is a hallmark of Chef Morimoto's creative style.

A sample sushi platter includes salmon, yellowtail, tuna sushi, and a veggie sushi with asparagus, carrot, and cucumber. Photo by Donald Fink.

So what is on the menu at Morimoto Asia? When we were first asked to visit this restaurant, the first thing that came to mind was sushi. Then, of course, Asian meals in general. After all, its name is Morimoto Asia. But when we started examining the menu, we found items from all around the globe. First, there does indeed seem to be a strong Asian influence, being an Asian restaurant and all. But if you're not the biggest fan of Asian food, there seems to be enough Western influence to keep just about anyone interested.

Peking Duck is prepared and waiting for use in the open kitchen at Morimoto Asia. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

The menu shows some Asian dishes that are familiar to the Western palate, like kung pao chicken and hot and sour soup, as well as some unfamiliar (but popular-in-Asia) dishes, like wide variety of dim sum dumplings and noodle dishes representing several Asian countries (such as pad thai, pho, and ramen).

But there's also a healthy portion of filet mignon and even an 18-ounce rib eye steak. Sure, they're done in the style that only Chef Morimoto can envision, but that's kind of the point. By the way, we didn't try them, but the Morimoto Spare Ribs, which are pork ribs with cilantro and hoisin sweet chili glaze, look like a really interesting take on a rib dish. They're available as an appetizer, a half rack, and a full rack.

There is also a good selection of sushi. While the actual sushi bar seats only 14 people, you can get anything offered at the counter regardless of where you are seated. You can choose from spicy tuna, spicy yellowtail, or spicy salmon. There's an eel and avocado roll, and many more choices. Each comes with either white rice or brown rice, and you can add a tempura crunch (a topping of crunchy tempura batter crumbs) if you like.

Upstairs in the second floor loft is the sushi bar, where this sous chef is preparing sushi. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

There are many beers and wines, and of course various sake drinks to go along with your meal, too. Chef Morimoto actually has his own line of beers that are available here.

The restaurant is not like anything we've seen before. Chef Morimoto and the Patina Group have made it a truly unique experience. To think of it as an Asian experience alone is not fair to Chef Morimoto's efforts. If you talk with the Patina folks, they'll tell you about the unique and exciting architecture of the building. If you speak to the wait staff or the chefs involved, they'll tell you about the exciting menu. The operative word here is that everyone is excited, and we can see why.

The bar in the second floor loft at Morimoto Asia is decorated with bottles, reminiscent of the Springs Bottling Company. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

This unique and exciting Disney Springs restaurant brings a Pan-Asian dining experience under one well thought out roof . We saw meals from Japan, China, Vietnam, and Korea on the menu—and that's just the dishes we recognized. Add to that Chef Morimoto's unique ability to introduce Western influence to Asian food, and you start to get the picture.

The Matsuriza Drummers, from Epcot's Japan pavilion, entertain guests and add drama to the ceremonies at the grand opening of Morimoto Asia. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

To be truthful, Asian cuisine is not our first choice when looking for a dining experience—but Morimoto Asia looks like it will be an exception. We think pretty much anyone can find an interesting meal here, and we'll certainly give it a try. We think you should, too.

From our Walt Disney World Resort Update earlier this week:

The restaurant has posted its menu on its Facebook page, and confirmed that its participation in the Tables of Wonderland program. The restaurant will also be part of the Disney Dining Plan starting in November.

The restaurant admitted via Facebook that there were issues with the planned Open Table.com reservation launch on September 16. The website now says that reservations will open on September 30. Starting September 30, the restaurant will also book reservations directly—call (407) 560-6686. Reservations through the Walt Disney World dine line open November 1.

[Note: The restaurant's full menu is available on their Facebook page.]