Sushi Zo Omakase

inside sushi zo
inside sushi zo

Does the high-end sushi omakase market in NY seem a bit crowded to you? Shuko, Yasuda, Nakazawa, Neta, O Ya…and now there’s a new one to add to the list. Sushi Zo, a highly acclaimed LA based restaurant that tops all the best of lists in that city, seems confident that it has something new to offer with its $200 a head omakase. Chef Masa made the move on behalf of the LA team to run the east coast franchise, which is curiously located on the scrappy streets of Greenwich Village. The space has the standard minimalist look and feel of a serious sushi restaurant run by a control freak chef, but Masa-san is not one of those martinets who demand that you eat something in a particular way. He seems a lot more Americanized than most sushi chefs and hence engages comfortably with his customers like a peer, which makes for a relaxed atmosphere. No tense exchanges for mistakenly dipping your fish in soy sauce or not using your fingers.

tuna from north carolina, yellow jack mackerel, horse mackerel and red snapper with yuzu pepper
tuna from north carolina, yellow jack mackerel, horse mackerel and red snapper with yuzu pepper
halibut from long island
halibut from long island
spanish mackerel from long island with ponzu sauce
spanish mackerel from long island with ponzu sauce
amberjack from japan
amberjack from japan
flame grilled sea perch from japan
flame grilled sea perch from japan
sea bream with roasted shishito pepper
sea bream with roasted shishito pepper
medium fatty blue fin tuna from north carolina
medium fatty blue fin tuna from north carolina
scallop from hokkaido
scallop from hokkaido
monk fish liver from maine with ponzu sauce
monk fish liver from maine with ponzu sauce
chawanmushi
chawanmushi
black sea bass from long island
black sea bass from long island
uni from hokkaido
uni from hokkaido
salmon roe from alaska
salmon roe from alaska
white clam from washington state
white clam from washington state
live shrimp from japan
live shrimp from japan
anago sea eel from japan
anago sea eel from japan
sea urchin from maine hand roll
sea urchin from maine hand roll
tamago
tamago
clear soup
clear soup

In my opinion, what makes Sushi Zo different from other places is its technique of pre-seasoning its sushi with sauces beyond the typical soy, as well as a local approach to sourcing its fish. A lot of the fish was from Long Island or North Carolina, which I found to be very interesting, as other restaurants seem to fly in everything from Japan. And the quality of these domestic fish was very good and made me rethink the whole Japan is better mentality when it comes to raw fish.

I’m usually on the fence when it comes to pre-marinated sushi, especially when they get a little non traditional with the ponzu and the yuzu, because shouldn’t the fish be good on its own? But the sea bream with roasted shishito peppers convinced me otherwise. It’s definitely ok to dress up your fish a little bit. And I’m always a stickler for a great anago, a creamier and flakier eel than its fishier, freshwater counterpart unagi. I first had anago at Nakamura in Tokyo, and the one at Sushi Zo was just as dreamy.

By the end of the meal, I was completely stuffed and felt like I was suffering from gout. There were a lot of pieces in the omakase, but at the same time, it cost $200 a person, so you should be getting the whole sea at that price point. It’s hard being the new kid in town, especially one that’s full of more established sushi restaurants. I’m not quite sure if Sushi Zo’s style is distinctive enough or significantly better than the competition’s to consistently draw business its way, but Masa-san and his staff definitely deserve a closer look.


Sushi Zo
88 W. 3rd St (between Sullivan and Thompson St)
New York, NY 10012
(646) 405-4826

Vegan Food, by CHLOE

When I took Ruoxi to the new vegan restaurant by CHLOE in Greenwich Village, the first thing he said was, “Wow, there are a lot of girls here.” It’s true that the ratio of women to men was largely skewed towards female, and you could probably count the number of men on two hands. He looked concern, taking the lack of dudes to be a sign that this food would be too healthy and spa-like to appeal to people like him.

Processed with VSCOcam with m6 preset
the classic burger with a tempeh-lentil-chia-walnut patty, pickles, onion, beet ketchup, special sauce and potato bun
Processed with VSCOcam with m6 preset
air baked sweet potato french fries

Which is why it was impressive that he was so sold on the Classic Burger, which he proclaimed to be the best veggie burger he had ever tried. Granted, he probably has only ever tried two veggie burgers in his life, but Ruoxi never judges on a curve, which means the Classic Burger was objectively a great burger. This patty, a blend of tempeh, lentil, chia and walnut, will never truly mimic a juicy, savory meat patty, but the light, nutty veggie “hash brown”, if you will, had its own merits. The tangy pickles and the ketchup like special sauce also helped to make the experience of eating the veggie burger taste very, very similar to the real thing. The air baked sweet potato fries, on the other hand, were just as tasty and crispy as the fried version.

Processed with VSCOcam with m6 preset
spicy thai salad with apricot-sriracha glazed tempeh, quinoa, edamame, scallion, crispy wontons and peanut dressing

The salads here are not the leafy kinds that you would normally expect. They’re big, hearty bowls that are densely full of good stuff. The spicy thai salad, for instance, looked like a bowl of Chinese takeout on a bed of quinoa and edamame, and the taste wasn’t that far off either. The apricot-sriracha glaze on the chicken-like tempeh had caramelized into a crispy shell that was very reminiscent of General Tso’s. It was extremely satisfying, much like a meal from P. F. Chang’s, but 10x healthier.

This vegan restaurant was so good, that Ruoxi said he would willingly come back for some more, even if it meant sitting awkwardly between lots of girls and their yoga mats. Chloe or whoever is running the restaurant knows what she’s doing. She’s focused on making good, wholesome food that actually tastes good. Yes, the initial draw might be the health conscious chicks, but with food this good, first come the girls, and then come the guys…


by CHLOE
185 Bleecker Street (between Macdougal and Sullivan St)
New York, NY 10012
(212) 290-8000

 

DOMODOMO Hand Rolls

Hand rolls are often relegated to the sidelines at sushi restaurants. During an omakase, the emphasis is on the sushi or sashimi, and if a handroll is included, it usually arrives towards the end, when the diner’s attention wanes and the superfluous rice muffles the flavors of the fish. DOMODOMO, a sushi bar in Greenwich Village, is one of those rare restaurants that specializes in hand rolls, featuring them in ways that are much more interesting than the ubiquitous spicy mayo variety.

domodomo entrance
domodomo entrance

The restaurant has the clean, minimalist look of a traditional sushi bar, but the atmosphere is a lot more lively than the serious-minded silence that fills the room of other places. That’s not to say that this levity implies a lower level of skill at DOMODOMO. It’s true that they take a nontraditional approach to their hand rolls. At times they might pre-treat their fish in a bbq soy glaze or in a Korean seasoning, for instance, rather than having the customer season to taste with soy sauce, but it’s all done very thoughtfully and not in a gimmicky way. You won’t find gigantic, nonsensical Dragon or Spider rolls on this menu.

Processed with VSCOcam with hb2 preset
a glass of kagua, the ideal beer to complement japanese food
shrimp peach salad
shrimp peach salad
chawanmushi with black truffle sauce
chawanmushi with black truffle sauce
sushi platter - amberjack, branzino, yellowtail, cured salmon, fluke and bluefin tuna
sushi platter – amberjack, branzino, yellowtail, cured salmon, fluke and bluefin tuna
bay scallop with korean seasoning, unagi and japanese spotted prawn
bay scallop with korean soy sauce seasoning, smoked unagi in chocolate kabayaki sauce and japanese spotted prawn
blue crab hand roll
blue crab hand roll

The menu also offers a variety of appetizers and select sushi pieces to complement your hand rolls. I would recommend the hand roll course, which features a good mix of things–cooked plates, hand rolls, a few sushi pieces and a dessert. If you’re going a la carte, the blue crab, unagi and lobster hand rolls are must do’s, and if you’re not really feeling the whole hand roll thing, the sushi menu for $52 is a very good deal that lets you have a more traditional sushi bar experience that’s more fish and less rice. The sushi, by the way, was clean, fresh and delicious, with the salmon, unagi and ebi pieces really standing out. DOMODOMO is dedicated to quality, and their fish can certainly stand on its own without the protective cover of sushi rice.

Processed with VSCOcam with hb2 preset
water chestnut panna cotta
Processed with VSCOcam with hb2 preset
hojicha pudding

I am a huge fan of green tea anything, so of course, for dessert, I ordered the hojicha pudding, a light panna cotta-like custard that was flavored with roasted green tea. The water chestnut panna cotta had a very similar flavor profile, except it was nuttier and earthier. In general, the desserts here are sweet but subtle in that understated Japanese way, as they should be, because anything sweeter would overshadow the fantastic sushi that came beforehand.


DOMODOMO
138 W. Houston St (between Macdougal and Sullivan St)
New York, NY 10012
(646) 707-0301

Manousheh, a Lebanese Snack Food

If the thought of another sandwich or wrap is leaving you feeling uninspired, why not try a manousheh instead? The manousheh is a Lebanese flatbread that is usually topped with zaatar seasoning, cheese and olive oil.  It has the look and feel of a very thin crust pizza, down to the details of a crust made blistery and bubbly from the heat of a wood-fire oven, but it is much lighter in taste and weight. The crust is lightly dusted with herbs and olive oil, and if meat and cheese are involved, they are used in moderation.

These flatbreads aren’t very common in New York City, but you can try them at Manousheh in Greenwich Village, a restaurant dedicated to broadening the reach of this snack food beyond the borders of Lebanon. I tried the zaatar, which consists of dried thyme, sumac and sesame seeds, and added on a side of veggies. It was nutty and tasty, although a bit on the salty side, so I was glad that the cucumbers and tomatoes were there to balance out the flavors. I’d say it was a very good snack, although not quite substantial enough to make a meal out of it. I’d recommend the lahem bi ajine for something more filling, a manousheh topped with organic grass fed ground beef, tomatoes and onion. This had more in common with a traditional pizza, but it was a much more nimbler version, as it wasn’t weighed down by heavy grease and sauce.

Processed with VSCOcam with hb1 preset
zaatar manousheh with extra veggies
Processed with VSCOcam with hb1 preset
lahem bi ajine – grass fed ground beef, tomatoes and onion, with extra veggies

Overall I did appreciate the nuanced and balanced savory flavor profile, and how the litheness of the bread didn’t make you feel so full and carb-loaded. Sometimes it did feel a little too skinny on fillings, although that’s not something a side of veggies or cheese couldn’t solve. We get a little too comfortable with our eating routine, and eating this manousheh is a great and accessible way to branch out.


Manousheh
193 Bleecker St (between Macdougal and Minetta St)
New York, NY 10012
(347) 971-5778

Central Thai Food at Kiin Thai

Kiin Thai is a college date night type of place. Like you’re tired of eating in the dining hall, but you want something nicer than pizza or Mexican, so this stylish Thai restaurant hits that sweet spot of serving interesting food at a reasonable price point.

But that “college date night” qualifier says something. In college, you’re not really all that picky about what you eat. Instant ramen noodles and Totino’s boxed pizza were all fair game. But as you get older, you start eating a lot more real food and developing standards, and the college hot spots don’t cut it anymore.

I wasn’t expecting Kiin Thai to be a college date night type of place. I thought it would be many notches above that, as it is run by the owners of the highly regarded Isaan Thai restaurant Somtum Der. But there’s a real difference between the two restaurants. Somtum Der is like the sure footed parent with a strong point of view, whereas Kiin Thai is the people pleasing college kid still figuring it out.

The decor at Kiin Thai is very nice, but it feels a little out of character for a Thai restaurant. There’s a lot of whitewashed wood and mason jars, which to me reads more farm-to-table American than central Thailand. This is the whole people-pleaser aspect that I was talking about earlier. I feel like the owners thought this farm-to-table decor was trendy and was what New Yorkers wanted, and hence they decided to furnish things this way, rather than being driven by authenticity. Maybe things have changed in Thailand, but when I was there several years ago, things weren’t being served out of mason jars…

pad thai with shrimp wrapped in egg crepe
pad thai with shrimp wrapped in egg crepe

Here’s an obvious example of Kiin Thai not quite figuring things out–the pad thai did not come fully seasoned. Instead, the peanuts, red pepper flakes and sugar came on the side. I’m a little confused by why the restaurant didn’t have the confidence to assert its point of view and season everything fully beforehand. It’s a cop out, frankly–no one can blame them for the flavors if the diners have to season the dish themselves. I guess on the plus side, because it wasn’t fully seasoned, the pad thai wan’t overly sweet like bad takeout style, but in the same vein, it was also pretty bland.

grandma's grilled pork and grilled sticky rice
grandma’s grilled pork and grilled sticky rice

I did enjoy the grandma’s pork chops, which were served playfully as lollipops. The ground meat was seasoned well, with a hint of coconut, lemongrass and cilantro in the blend, and the patties really came alive with the dipping sauce, which generated a lot of explosive heat.

royal seafood omelette
royal seafood omelette

The biggest disappointment by far was the royal seafood omelette. There was nothing regal about this sad omelette, which had an unappetizing gray color about it. My suspicions were confirmed when I took a bite. I felt like I was eating this weird filler, like industrial powdered egg with bits of canned crab meat mixed throughout. It was so bad, we didn’t even finish it. When you think to how much potential this dish could have had, it made the misstep that much more tragic.

So this is what happens when you run a restaurant that isn’t true to its roots. There’s no strong point of view, other than to cater to as many palates as possible, which results in cooking that lacks soul. Everything looks very pretty, but like a bland pageant queen, Kiin Thai lacks real substance. Not that that bothered the NYU kids around me, who looked like they were enjoying themselves. They’ll know better in a few years’ time…


Kiin Thai
36 E. 8th St (between University Pl and Greene St)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 529-2363

Kiin Thai