Monday, March 12, 2012

Dinner | Zenkichi

Marcus and I had a "date day" two Saturday afternoon ago over in Greenpoint and Williamsburg. The reason for our trip was that I had stumbled upon a deal on Gilt City in January for Zenkichi, a Japanese restaurant right in Williamsburg (and to make a detour for a visit to Bellocq Tea Atelier). When I contemplated purchasing, I thought it'd be a nice little day trip for us to explore Brooklyn a little bit (after all, I'm trying to stay true to those New Year's resolutions!), and I'm glad I decided to go for it, making reservations in March with our "date day" would conclude with dinner at Zenkichi.

Arriving twenty minutes to Zenkichi, we were a little thrown off as to where the restaurant was located. Luckily, we realized that wood-paneled exterior along a good portion of the street's corner was in fact home to Zenkichi -- almost like a secret restaurant. Little did we know, this was indicative of the ambiance we would encounter once we got inside.

The waiting area inside Zenkichi.

Zenkichi was opened in 2006 by a homesick Tokyo-native who wished to create a "modern Japanese brasserie with an authentic dining experience of popular Tokyo establishments." The restaurant places emphasis on its omakase (chef's tasting menu), which will change every five weeks in order to showcase the best locally sourced and imported fish and produce of the season at hand.

Once the hostess was ready to seat us, we were lead upstairs and then through a series of labyrinthian corridors with little curtain-swept doorways.

As it turns out, the majority of seating at Zenkichi "takes a style of intimate semi-private booth tables," also popular back in Tokyo, the argument being that "most diners in Japan prefer a hideaway feel over a festive see-and-be-seen scenes, as this relaxing setting enables them to concentrate on food, sake, and their dining companions." I like where the Japanese are going with this -- this kind of philosophy is just my style! Each booth even had a little buzzer bell to call over the service team to assist you with whatever you may need. With some modern jazz softly playing in the background, it was quite a lively yet relaxing place to dine out. I also liked the selective lighting design throughout the restaurant's interior -- it was dark to emanate a romantic ambiance yet had a bright focus on the table for the dishes to come. Definitely made for documenting more effectively!

Zenkichi's menu extends well beyond the typical sushi and yakitori you see in Japanese restaurants in America. Instead, the menu invites patrons to enjoy its specialty --Tokyo-style seasonal small plates for sharing (with particular emphasis on "the harmony of subtle and bold flavors"), and if you're up for it, pairing with sake. While I have already mentioned that the omakase changes every five weeks, the small plate a la carte menu changes every three months. This makes subsequent visits back to Zenkichi more likely as we can explore the menu once again, tabula rasa.

I think one of my favorite things about authentic Japanese restaurants is its offering of Japanese green tea, which in many cases (as it is here) is genmaicha. Genmaicha is Japanese for "brown rice tea" as the tea is a combination of green tea leaves combined with roasted brown rice. I like the additional toasted flavor from the brown rice to my tea -- it gives the tea a little more character.

To start, we had some chilled edamame -- chamame black soy beans served chilled with some salt. Chamame, which are a kind of green soy bean, are crisp and have a rich aroma and elegant flavor. They are sometimes referred to as "the king of edamame." These were good to get the munching started, as we had ordered seven small plates to share.

First up was the maguro carpaccio -- medium tuna sashimi with green yuzu pepper sauce. This cut of Bluefin tuna was surprisingly soft, not at all stringy. The highlight for me here was the green yuzu pepper sauce -- it was perfect in texture, similar to the dressing you would find in complimentary salads at Japanese restaurants, and striking in taste. The refreshing citrus taste complemented the tuna and the pickled slaw underneath -- kind of an unconventional salad. Really, really loved this.

Next, we had the
washugyu beef tataki -- a crossbreed of Tajima and Black Angus, thinly sliced and lightly seared (rare) with ginger garlic soy sauce. Slightly more seared/cooked than the washu-beef short rib sashimi that I had at Bohemian, the beef tataki at Zenkichi were thinly sliced, just seared rare, giving the beef lots of marbled flavor and texture. The marbled slices allowed it to melt directly in your mouth, as the ginger garlic soy sauce very much highlighted its flavors, meshing well with the slaw underneath and the radish slices and scallions atop. Another small dish hit! Must order!

We also had the nagoya teba wings -- crispy chicken wings with special blend of Japanese spices. These were lightly battered in that really awesome Japanese fashion (like tempura and katsu-style). The "special blend" of Japanese spices were great with the juicy meat on the wings.

The following dish was {1} the Camembert and shrimp corn tempura with {2} green tea salt and {3} tempura sauce -- resembling a shumai at dim sum, only with creamy Camembert at their centers (instead of crab roe or carrot) and with lightly fried tempura batter (instead of the usual thin layer of delicate dumpling skin). Marcus and I were not crazy about this one at all. It was too creamy for my stomach (it had a heavy consistency of really, really chunky corn chowder), and overall, it just seemed every "un-Japanese" to me (even if it may be a traditional Tokyo-small plate). The green tea salt gave it an interesting turn of flavor, but not enough to have me write home about it. We were kind of bummed for not ordering the other tempura small plates -- the others seemed a bit more our style.

Luckily, the lamb chop tataki (
atop sliced crispy potatoes) with rocksalt, coarse black pepper, and ginger onion soy sauce gave us reprieve from our ordering faux pas in the previous small plate. Also seemed a bit un-Japanese to me in flavor, but I enjoyed it very much anyhow. Pardon my use of a word I don't normally like to use, but it was incredibly tasty! Succulent, evenly charred, and densely flavored (thanks to the ginger onion soy sauce) with a little gaminess. The crisp slices of potatoes were great, too, as they added a starchy textural contrast to the chops of lamb. Overall, I really enjoyed these chops -- definitely worth ordering.

We also had the rocksalt jidori chicken -- simply grilled free-range chicken with lemon and yuzu pepper on the side. The skin was loose and crisp with the meat deliciously juicy underneath. We spritzed a little lemon juice and dabbed a bit of yuzu pepper (that daub of green off to the right side) on top for a very kicky punch. I was worried the chicken would be dry and hard to eat, but this was not the case at all -- it was so moist and tender!

The last of the small plates was {1} the white kakuni -- pork belly with egg and tofu, all simmered in a simple chicken broth with {2} Japanese mustard and yuzu citrus pepper on the side. The white kakuni was very congee-like (i.e., Chinese porridge) with the way the pork belly was prepared. Clean yet flavorful, the pork belly had that texture of falling right off the bone while the tofu was silky and delicious. The Japanese mustard was biting like a mustard, while the yuzu citrus pepper was super spicy, in the same way that wasabi clears your sinuses. But what really pulled all of this together was the chicken broth. Its simplicity in appearance led me to believe it was going to be shallow in flavor, but this wasn't the case at all. I normally don't really enjoy soup broths (noodle soups or other dishes that include it) where I can drink almost all of it and really say, "Wow, that's really good broth!" With this thinking of mine, I usually just eat the contents within said broth and leave the broth -- it's usually too salty, too concentrated, or too bland for me to drink by itself. However, this broth at Zenkichi took me by a pleasant surprise -- there was a striking balance between clean and rich flavors. It was like drinking satin without any richness (e.g., butter) or rough texture (e.g., brininess from salt). The contents within the broth definitely took in the best qualities of the broth, and it was a great small plate with which to conclude the entree portion of our dinner. I can still hear myself slurping in delight, even a week later.

For dessert, Marcus and I shared the frozen black sesame mousse which was chocolate-based. So very silky, sliding right onto our palates, the frozen black sesame mousse was like a frozen black sesame tong jyun (i.e., glutinous rice balls filled with ground black sesame seeds inside). Nutty, smoothly grainy, and creamy from its mousse state (a little lighter than the gelato/ice cream variety), it was heavenly. Now, I really, really want to learn how to make it!

Findings: Marcus and I very much enjoyed our dinner of small plates at Zenkichi over in Williamsburg. It was nice to have a taste of authentic Japanese cuisine that wasn't necessarily all-sushi. One of our favorite things was the ambiance -- the modern jazz echoing in the background whilst seated in semi-private booths made for a more relaxing enjoyment of dinner as we could focus more easily on the food and cuisine at hand. Additionally, the food was quite impressive -- with exception of the Camembert and shrimp corn tempura, we were very content with all of our choicse. Our must-orders: maguro carpaccio, washugyu beef tataki, lamb chop tataki, white kakuni, and frozen black sesame mousse. Also, we hear the omakase here is also worth checking out as well.

Though it was a trek to get over there (especially when the L train wasn't running that weekend and the East River Ferry closes around 7 PM), I definitely see myself returning for the next season's menu of small plates. So if you're in the neighborhood, make time for ressies at Zenkichi! Also great for date night and catching up with friends, too!

Price point: $4.95-16.95 for each small plate, $5 for each pot of genmaicha, $6.95 for each dessert; $50 worth of food for $25 via Gilt City!

--March 3, 2012

77 North 6th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211

Gilt City
Zenkichi deal was available here*!

* This deal is no longer available, as the event was sold out and has passed.

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