Zenkichi has actually been open since November 2006, so I’m not sure what last night’s festivities were supposed to be celebrating. In any case, the joint is classy. There is only a tiny, unassuming sign designating its location from outside. Rather, it looks like just a long, plain, wooden wall. Now, normally I’m anti-unlabeled establishments. I find the concept pretentious and unnecessarily highfalutin. But Zenkichi was so cool on the inside that I’ll forgive it this trespass.
There are three floors in the restaurant. The first floor is the “winter garden.” It’s full of bamboo stalks, stones on the floor, and a glass roof over which extends a leafy tree (outside). It definitely shoots for the “zen” look. There are also a few of their signature intimate booths in this area. The booths consist of tiny tables, for no more than three people (though two is really best), with dark wood paneling surrounding each and every little bungalow. It really allows for comfortable, private conversation. It also gives off a very romantic feel. This is the best date spot I’ve come across in some time.
The second floor had more of the bamboo stalks, plus many more private booths, all set up in a snaking maze of a layout. This, again, creates a deliciously intimate atmosphere. The third floor was roped off, but we took a peek, and found a banquet room, with what looked like more rooms cordoned off away from the staircase. I imagine it’d be a nice place for a special, relatively small celebration, like a milestone birthday or an engagement party.
As for the food, it goes way beyond sushi. In fact, they don’t serve sushi at all—rather, offerings consist of “Tokyo-style small plates.” Zenkichi also utilizes seasonal ingredients, so the menu changes every few months. The restaurant places highest emphasis on the “Omakase,” or chef’s tasting menu, which changes every five weeks, though individual items are available too.
Tuesday night, Zenkichi served a selection of cold items, warm ones, and dessert, as well as a lot of sake. My favorite cold item was the Sweet Duck Salad. I usually hate duck, but this dish was a definite exception. A thin piece of slightly sweet medium-rare duck was wrapped around a portion of shredded raw vegetables. I wouldn’t exactly call it a “salad,” because the duck was really the strongest flavor, but either way, it was flawless. The boyfriend’s favorite was the Maguro Carpaccio, which was actually pretty similar to the duck. A piece of raw tuna was wrapped around more shredded raw vegetables. Again, delicious.
As for the warm options, both of us adored the Pork Kakuni, a piece of seared pork belly so good that I don’t even remember what else was stuck on the toothpick with it. This salty little morsel practically melted in your mouth. Kind of a disturbing description considering that it’s a hunk of fat, but trust me when I say it is damn good. A close second was definitely the Saikyo Miso Black Cod, a piece of black cod in a really tasty marinade.
As for the sake offerings, we tasted four different kinds. I’m not usually a big sake person, but after last night, I think that’s only because I’ve never had any good sake before. My favorite was the unfiltered one, of which I don’t remember the specific name, but I could have sat there sipping it all night if not for the fact that I’m a total lightweight.
So final impression: Zenkichi is one of the rare restaurants in New York City that I think is worth its prices. The Omakase menu costs $48 per person, and that doesn’t include drinks; but even I, who have elevated scamming free food and drink to an art form, will be returning. And I recommend that next time any of you are in Williamsburg, and can afford it, you ought to do the same.
Zenkichi is located at 77 North 6th Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Check out their website at www.zenkichi.com for more information.