As most of you know, I have moved to Williamsburg. Yes, yes. It is a monumental moment in the life of The Skinny Pig. Not really…I'm just being dramatic. I thought it would be much more difficult to adjust to, but it's quite nice actually, and the abundance of new restaurants is an excellent perk. Take, for example, my dinner date last Friday night at Zenkichi with Ange, my good friend from college. Let me just say that it's good we're already so close, because Zenkichi has to be one of the most intimate places I've ever been to. How intimate? Well…read on.
First off, I walked right by this place on N 6th street; there is no signage, no windows, and the exterior is just wooden planks with a door that's barely noticeable. When we finally figured it out, we walked in to a very Zen waiting area – bamboo, Japanese plants, trickling water – the whole nine. We were greeted, softly, by the hostess, and then taken through a labyrinth of corridors to get to our table. We were tucked away in the back at a dimly lit table, and as if that weren't intimate enough, the waitress pulls a string and bamboo "shades" come down to seclude you from the other diners. What?! Yes. AND there's a button you can push when you want your server to come to you. Amazing. For me though, the shade thing would bug me if I was on a first or even second date. Screw intimate conversation and confounding questions, I want to people-watch and make fun of everyone else around me to draw the attention away from myself. I don't have issues. But I digress…in this situation, since I was with someone I actually like, the shades and intimate setting worked out just fine.
We were presented with three menus: a la carte, Omakase Tasting Menu (their most popular), and the Lucky Rice Restaurant Week prix fixe menu. We were a bit overwhelmed since there was so much to choose from, so we narrowed down. We ruled out the Lucky Rice menu (even though it was a good deal), and then we debated the Omakase menu, but there were a few dishes on the a la carte menu that sounded too good to miss, so we went a la carte. The plates here are small and meant for sharing (I assume to add even more closeness to the dining experience), so we ordered quite a few. We're hungry, growing girls. Among them were: Kobe Beef Tataki, Camembert and Shrimp Corn Tempura, Grilled Nasu Dengaku (japanese eggplant topped with house-blend white miso), Saikyo Black Cod, Grilled Riceball, Hot Buckwheat Soba Noodles, Pork Kakuni (pork belly in broth), and the sashimi selection of the day.
The eggplant and shrimp/corn tempura came out first, and they split the tempura fritters so they were open-faced, and you could see the Camembert cheese oozing out. Drool. It had a nice crunch and can you ever really go wrong with something-tempura? You could make rubberband tempura and I'd probably eat it. The eggplant, on the other hand, was a little disappointing; it was greasy and kind of mushy. The white miso on top was good though, so I kind of scraped that off and ate it by itself, but the eggplant definitely needed a side of paper towels to absorb some of that grease.
The sashimi came out next, which made up for the eggplant. It was fresh, tasty and had my most important quality in sashimi: not fishy. The Pork Kakuni and Kobe Beef Tataki came out next, and I highly recommend the Kobe beef; the pork belly was good, but a little fatty for my taste. I know, it's pork belly, it's supposed to be fatty, but because this was simmered in broth, it was soft and difficult to dissect the meat away from the fat, especially with chopsticks. The Kobe beef was perfectly cooked to medium-rare, and it came with a ginger-garlic dipping sauce that it didn't necessarily need, but it really didn't hurt either. A little spicy, a little salty, and a lot of flavor. Mmmm…
My favorite of the whole night (aside from the dessert…getting to that…) would have to be the buckwheat soba noodles. I know – so simple – but hey, sometimes simple is the way to go. The tender noodles were served in a super hot bonito broth (Japanese fish broth) with green vegetables and a poached egg. That's it. But oh my god it was good. You break the egg and the yolk oozes out into the broth, making it almost creamy. It was like Japanese comfort food. Our riceballs came out shortly before this, and they were a little sticky and hard on the outside, so we dunked them in the soba noodle broth. They weren't bad tasting at all, I just wasn't wild about the texture. Dunking them in the broth definitely helped since it absorbed all that brothy goodness. Nums. Perfect way to end the meal in my opinion. Well, that is until I saw the dessert menu.
Frozen Black Sesame Mousse? Don't mind if I do! I didn't even know what it was, but it had chocolate in it, so I was sold pretty quickly on it. It arrived at the table and either I was drunk off of Sake (strong possibility), or it looked like a frog. Before you call me crazy, just take a look at the picture below and tell me that doesnt look like a damn frog! It does. I stand by it. I digress again. This was probably one of the lightest, most refreshing mousses I've ever had. And I don't think I ever refer to mousse as refreshing, because it's usually not. This was frozen chocolate mousse, so it was ice cold, and it had little bits of black sesame seeds throughout. When you bite into it, you think it's ice cream at first, but it's so airy, and then you get a bit of sesame seed crunch and you're like..what is going on here?! I'm confused but I LIKE IT. I didn't want to stop eating it. Ange was in agreement, considering she said "one more bite" about three times.
Will I visit Zenkichi again? Absolutely. Though I wasn't thrilled with some of the dishes, they made quite a few things that I really enjoyed. Is it worth the trip from Manhattan? Surely. Not only to experience the atmosphere, but I personally would make the trip just for the soba noodles and frozen mousse. I'd still advise against it for a first date - because unless you're the adventurous dating type, being that zoned in on one another just seems like too much pressure..