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Zenkichi: Perfectly executed Japanese tapas in an unlikely place

On a recent, wintery night, I ventured out into Williamsburg to take a peek at an intriguing new Japanese izakaya that had just opened in the neighborhood. I'm a huge fan of izakayas and the small plates/plentiful drinks combo they serve so I consider it my civic duty to try out all the ones I come across in NY. Thus far, I have my favorites among the handful in the East Village (Typhoon, Oh! Taisho), Yakitori Totto in midtown and fond memories of a few that I tried in Tokyo (the most notable one located in an indescript dark, gray office building on the 8th floor in Shinjuku somewhere). I'd heard raves about the great food at Zenkichi (apparently the only restaurant in NY to serve cod milt - that's cod sperm to the uninitiated), interesting decor (think mirror-maze, semi-private booths and forests of bamboo poles) and a very interesting ordering scheme by buzzer. So it was that I jumped on the L train at 14th and 1st to hop over 1 stop to Williamsburg.

The Exterior: (7/10)

Williamsburg has a very industrial chic neighborhood vibe - plenty of bars and restaurants to light the way. I knew that the entrance to Zenkichi was going to be somewhat obscure but we still nearly missed the entrance (the solid wall of bamboo).

The Interior: (8.5/10)
"Bamboo forest"; Dimly lit semi-private dining booths - you can draw a blind down to really seclude yourself; A better shot of the booth from Kalina

Perched on the edge of every booth was this very innocent looking buzzer. Needless to say, the button was pushed many times throughout the night :D
The Food: (9.5/10)

A large selection of sake - my recommendation: go for the ichi no kura (crisp, clear and quite possibly the best sake I've ever had to date - $11)

Monkfish Foie Gras served with ponzu citrus sauce ($7)
One of the best dishes of the night - smooth, creamy without being too mushy and really nicely accented by the intense citrus of the ponzu sauce. The beautiful layers of foie gras were nicely accented by the grated radish, scallions and seaweed as well.

Simmered japanese eggplant & pan fried rice cake in bonito broth ($8.50)
Yum :) I really liked the pan fried rice cake (mochi) in this dish - they were nicely sticky and just a bit crisp.

Chikuzen: Taro potato, bamboo shoots and chicken simmered in chicken broth
I didn't like this dish too much - the bamboo shoots overpowered all the other ingredients and the chicken broth was a bit too mild to compensate for it.

Agedashi Goma Tofu - Deep fried homemade sesame tofu in light broth ($9)
Probably one of the most interesting tofu dishes I've ever had - slightly sweet, warm, gooey and filled with alluring notes of sesame and the essence of tofu. The texture of the homemade tofu itself was unexpectedly soft so the contrast between the silky innards and the crispy thin outer skin was really pleasing.

Nagoya Teba Wings: Crispy chicken wings with special blend of Japanese spices ($6.50)
Wow, I've been having such a hard time finding good asian-style chicken wings (though I haven't tried Tebaya as of yet).. I think this is it though. I'm not sure what's in the "special blend of japanese spices" but whatever it is, I want seconds! This was five pieces of perfectly fried chicken wings with a nearly greaseless exterior and really tender meat.

Pork Kakuni- Sweet & complex flavor of pork belly achieved by 3 days of slow-cooking ($9)
This was one of the dishes I was looking forward to the most but was a bit of a disappointment. I think the dish was cooked for one day too many - the meat was a bit tough and the sauce lacked any true depth. It wasn't bad - it could just have been a whole lot better.

Anago & Cream Cheese: Soft seawater eel & Cream Cheese tempura ($8)
Truly wonderful pairing of soft seawater eel and cream cheese. This dish hit all the right notes - crispy, creamy, tart, salty and a bit bitter compliments of the dash of green tea powder they included. Highly recommended.
The Desserts: (8.5/10)

We decided to cap off a great meal with a tasting of all four desserts on the menu.

Sobako mille crepes
Very light crepes made from sobako (buckwheat flour - the same flour used to make soba) and filled with a green tea cream topped off with a dollop of red beans, a slice of pear and some strands of green tea chocolate (?).

Frozen sesame mousse
Wow... these two perfectly formed, frozen scoops of sesame goodness disappeared very, very quickly from the table. This was richer than the richest ice cream I've ever had but yet still felt ethereally light. The toasted sesame flavor really worked well here too - a great treat for sesame lovers.

Genmai creme brulee
Delicious but unexciting - this was a well executed creme brulee flavored with genmai.

Grapefruit gelee
I was expecting this dessert to be a distant cousin of jello but nothing could have been further from the truth. This was a really refreshing end to a fantastic meal. The essence of the dish is essentially grapefruit, grapefruit and more grapefruit. Little sections of grapefruit were spread liberally throughout a nicely firm gelee, providing little packets of juiciness that I never expected. Overall, very tart and sweet and the presentation in a half grapecruit bowl is very appealing.

In Summary
Definitely one of the best food experiences I've had to date - this is a fantastic place to bring friends or a date, the food is amazing and the service couldn't be better.


Make a Reservation

Zenkichi on Urbanspoon
L train to Bedford Avenue
Wed-Sun 6pm-Midnight

Reader Comments (1)

Thanks for the nice post!

September 21, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterfree ps3

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