Friday, March 15, 2013

Zento Review

Awhile back, Living Social had a deal offering a 7-course tasting for 2 for $70 at Sushi Zento. The normal retail for this tasting menu was $140 - so that's a 50% savings. So when I noticed the deal was about to expire, I decided to finally get off my butt and cash it in! 

So I made reservations for a Saturday evening. I called the day of the dinner as I needed to move back dinner by an hour, and it was a good thing I did. For some reason, they did not have my initial reservation down. Perhaps that was why I never received a confirmation call, despite making my reservation 3 weeks in advance. Regardless, they were able to provide a table for me that night.

Sushi Zento offers the talents of Chef Sam Ho, former sous chef at Morimoto, of Iron Chef fame. Having tried Iron Chef Morimoto's cuisine at his NYC outpost, I was excited to try Chef Ho's cuisine.

Unfortunately at Sushi Zento, there is no sushi bar (just a normal bar). Still, I was informed that omakase (traditional japanese tasting consisting primarily of sashimi/sushi/nigiri) was available. Still, one of the perks of omakase is being able to watch the sushi chef expertly prepare the nigiri right in front of you.

The decor at Sushi Zento is intimate. I loved the exposed brick and the wax coming from candle-lit openings on the walls. Still, the seating was reminiscent of Barbuzzo - in other words, really close quarters.

Tasting Menu ($70 pp)

Pumpkin Spice ($10)
Hiram Walker pumpkin liqueur, Hanger One spiced pear vodka, Cointreau orange liqueur, simple syrup agnostura bitters, garnished with fresh ground cinnamon 

While the Living Social deal offered free non-alcoholic drinks, we decided to opt for a few cocktails. The GF went with the pumpkin spice, which was light, subtly sweet, and frothy.

Johnny Sokko ($10)
Muddled ginger, Bacardi rum, Coca cola, garnished with fresh ginger root and lime wheel  

Mine was sweet as well, with some definite bite from the rum. However, I didn't notice any fresh ginger root garnish and the carbonation from the Coke was slight.

Miso Soup with Mussels

We both started off with miso soup with mussels. There was balanced salinity in a typically overly salty soup. The scallions were a nice touch and the sweet, plump mussels were perfectly clean and juicy.

Crispy Calamari Salad

I could smell the crisply fried calamari before I ate anything - and that was a good thing. The calamari was light and was a nice highlight to the perfectly dressed greens, which had a prototypical ginger-sesame dressing.

Homemade Crab Cakes

The crab cakes were crisply fried in panko - perfect pucks of meaty crab. There was a slight amount of sweet, garlic tartar sauce on each disc and some greens to break up any monotony.

Whitefish Carpaccio 

The whitefish was thinly pounded out - light and toothsome. The accompanying sauce was smoky and bright, rounding out the dish nicely.

Chicken Teriyaki 

The chicken breast was juicy and was seasoned lightly. The teriyaki sauce was saccharine and pretty standard. Frankly though, the spinach was my favorite part of the dish, especially as I'm usually not looking to get the teriyaki dish at a sushi restaurant.

Sushi/Nigiri Platter

Clockwise from top, you have white tuna (escolar) sushi with avocado. This had a slight mayo dressing, which was creamy. Topped with black sesame, this was pretty good. Next, we had amberjack (yellowtail), which had a nice delicate snap. The salmon was prototypically fatty and delicious. The super white tuna (fatty escolar) was smoky. Maguro (tuna) was fishy to me however, and was quite disappointing. A pet peeve of mine is when the wasabi is served on the side with nigiri and that was the case here. Additionally, the rice was substandard for sushi - cold and I could barely sense any vinegar.

Tofu Cheesecake

Our first of our dessert duo was the tofu cheese cake, with lychee in the middle. This had a creamy panna cotta-like texture and was subtly sweet.

Mochi with Green Tea Ice Cream

This was the GF's first time trying mochi and she wasn't the biggest fan, mainly due to the texture. However, being used to mochi, it was perfectly dense and smooth. The green tea ice cream within was a nice palate cleanser for the meal.

Overall, I can't see the tasting at Sushi Zento being worth $70 per person. Heck, the tasting at Jose Garce's restaurants consist of more overall dishes, higher quality, and better creativity. However, thanks to Living Social, the price point justified this initial meal. Still, I was expecting a bit more though I may have been misled by the guise of Chef Ho's experience at Morimoto. While Morimoto isn't a pure sushi/sashimi/nigiri experience, the quality of the fish is still quite high. And the cuisine offered (do try the Duck, Duck Duck at Morimoto) is simply superior. I can see the uninitiated being enthralled by Sushi Zento, but I would come here for a stiff drink and a specialty roll. Not for the omakase at the bar for sure.

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