Japonais By Morimoto | River North, Chicago

Japonais by Morimoto lets diners eat and drink celebrity

"Everyone say 'sushi!'"

We must have heard this at least 200 times during a single dinner at Japonais by Morimoto as tourists and diners lined up to get their picture taken with the Iron Chef.

The Morimoto brand pervades the entire dining experience at his latest restaurant: There is Morimoto sake, Morimoto beer (he'll sign the bottle if you ask) and Morimoto tea. The man himself is out in the dining room constantly, so chances are he didn't slice that tuna fillet himself.

But the big surprise of this glam, "globally inspired" Japanese restaurant? Whoever is actually in the kitchen is doing a wonderful job.

Popcorn shrimp tossed with wasabi aioli | A selection of sushi

The sushi is plated like a fashion spread and made with fish that we'd never tried before, like mizudako and kinmedai. When we pointed this out to our server, she laughed. "Oh, you can't get that anywhere else." It might not be literally true, but the fish definitely tastes better here. 

Tofu made tableside ($14) is a nail-biting adventure: A server mixes soy milk with nigari and covers it. According to the sous-chef who brought it to the table, it only works 60 percent of the time, and diners are instructed not to bump or tap the table while the tofu is doing its thing. But it's worth the 15-minute-long wait. Mix the ultra-creamy blocks with bonito flakes, dashi broth, kimchi and ginger for a spicy make-your-own-soup experience.

Sea Urchin carbonara ($26) adds a pungent hint of sea urchin to the Italian standby. You must eat it hot, though; after a minute or so, the appeal is gone. "Popcorn" shrimp ($16) are lightly battered and served with what they call ranch dressing (a wasabi aioli).

We want to mock its silly name, but we can't stop eating (or avoiding iPhone camera flashes) long enough for banter.