Urban jungle getting you down? Elbows sore from fighting through the Manhattan sea of humanity? Just wanna see some trees? Fear not, for Brooklyn is but a hop, skip and an L train ride away.
Last Friday, with friends visiting from London and Philly, we headed over to Williamsburg for a propuh night out. First stop: the Gutter. If you’re tired of paying an arm and a leg to listen to cheesy house music and eat artery clogging pizza at Chelsea Piers, the Gutter is a refreshing change of pace. Eight lanes, $3 shoes and just $45 to rent a lane for a an entire hour on weekends. We snacked on disco fries (yum) and drank beer while indulging
our my poor bowling skills. A few pitchers later, we began walking over to Zenkichi.
The quiet, tree-lined streets we’d crossed earlier were now swaying to the rhythm of canvas-toting, sandal-wearing Brooklyn hipsters. We passed bars, clubs and even the occasional all-night bookstore (what?) before arriving at our destination – a giant warehouse, boarded up with what looked like planks of wood. Welcome to Zenkichi.
Opened in 2006 by a homesick Tokyo native, Zenkichi describes itself as “a modern Japanese brasserie providing an authentic dining experience of popular Tokyo establishments”. I’ve never been to Tokyo, so I’m not the best person to opine on its authenticity, but if the ambience is anything to go by, you’ll feel as far away from the urban jungle as possible with a 20 minute train ride.
The entryway is dark and cave-like, the hostess is Japanese. She politely enquires if any one in our 10 person party is pregnant or under 14 (children are not welcome) and then introduces us to our waitress, who smiles and begins guiding us carefully up a lantern-lit staircase. The walkways are strewn with pebbles, sectioned off by mirrors and punctuated, of course, by bamboo stalks. The dim lighting, abundant foliage and babbling of moving water will lull you into a dream-like state, making you think, for an instant that you’re in some sort of secret lair – a maze leading to a Bond movie rendezvous. Our table, like everyone else’s was cloaked in bamboo curtains, secluded but by no means isolated. A tiny button at the end of the table could summon our waitress should we need her. Exciting, if you’re into that sort of thing.
If you google “Zenkichi” you will find that a lot of foodbloggers, magazines and food critics have written about the place. It’s a favorite amongst Japanese food purists and amateurs alike. I will not, for that reason, spend a lot of words on the food, but I will strongly recommend getting the omakase, the chef’s tasting menu. Thrust upon us for being such a large group, the omakase costs $55 and comprises eight unique courses – absolutely fantastic value.
Over the course of 2 hours, we slurped oysters (fresh and delicious), munched on vegetable tempura, sampled the signature Zenkichi salad and tucked into the silky richness of the famous miso-glazed cod. Being a traditional Japanese brasserie, Zenkichi does not serve any sushi which can be a tad disappointing if you’re looking for your Saturday night sushi fix. That said, the variety of dishes was impressive and while portions were small, the meal overall was very filling. Some dishes, such as the duck (too tough) and the yellowtail sashimi on rice (I needs more vinegar!) were mediocre but, overall, the food was very good.
The slew of sakes, variously described as “earthy”, “rich” and “fruity”, perfectly complemented the dishes and the desserts (try the black sesame mousse) were interesting enough for us to sample despite being stuffed. We also received a tray of complementary truffles as a “second dessert” which we were all too full to partake in.
Summary & Verdict:
Zenkichi was really interesting and different and cool. It’s a great place to take your out-of-town friends because it has that “wow” factor people come to New York for, as well as the authenticity that every foodie likes to brag about. The stellar ambience however, perhaps unfairly, generates sky high expectations for the food. While nothing is terrible, some of Zenkichi’s dishes are mediocre and the Omakase, I thought, could be more creative. Maybe I need to develop my Japanese purist palate since a lot of foodbloggers absolutely gush over this place but, for now, I’m reluctant to give it the same sort of rock solid recommendation as some of the ol’ favorites.
Damage: $98 including tax and tip, for the Omakase ($55) and a lot of sake.