77 N 6th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11230
Our Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Cards: All Major
Hours: Wed-Sat 6pm-Midnight; Sun 5:30pm-11:30pm; Closed Mon & Tue
Booze: Beer and Wine Only
Subway: L to Bedford Ave.
Menu: Click Here
In Williamsburg, vinyl-sided buildings are as ubiquitous as skinny, stretch jeans with white high tops, but the owners of Zenkichi gave their vinyl-sided building a facelift, converting it into something utterly unique. The plastic clapboards of the building’s edifice are masked in dark wood planks – the perfect exterior to the hidden Japanese tapas oasis within.
North Sixth is the Williamsburg strip where most restaurants conspicuously flaunt their crowds by packing them into large, noisy open spaces. With no sign to mark the entrance, Zenkichi is easy to miss, but inside is a welcome alternative to this trend. Walking in, we felt like we’d stumbled upon a cross between a Zen garden and a three-leveled carnival house-of-mirrors. The host led us up the stairs and through a disorienting maze to our own private cubby booth – complete with bamboo blinds and equipped with a buzzer to ring for our waitress. We felt like we entered a Japanese film noir where a smoke machine was the only missing element. Zenkichi is one of many izakaya spots springing up around the city. The Japanese equivalent of a tapas bars, izakayas are great places to try a variety of little dishes while sipping sake. We decided against the Omakase for Two — ten tastes chosen by the chef for $88. Since we didn’t want dessert and were curious about a few items not on the tasting menu, we opted to make our own selections.
We started with two raw dishes, Tako Wasabi and Maguro Carpaccio. The briny taste of wasabi-cured raw octopus was a refreshing spin on the sushi we were craving. More a condiment than a dish to satisfy hunger pangs, the Tako was nice light start on a hot summer night. The freshness continued with a traditional Japanese tuna dish, Maguro Carpaccio. The tuna was lightly coated in a sweet sesame marinade and wrapped around chilled, thin slices of radish and chives.
Next we moved on to something more substantial with the Pork Kakuni. A complex caramel broth, at once sweet and salty, seeped from the pork belly. It was among the best we’ve eaten. Cooked for three days, the tender, slow-cooked pork can be lifted from the fatty belly with an easy tug of the chopsticks. Equally satisfying was Zenkichi’s generous portion of Saiko Miso Black Cod. The hint of miso absorbed in the firm fish was a salty reminder to take another sip of sake. Less successful dishes included the Japanese Mushroom Gratin and Umaki and an omelet wrapped freshwater eel. Despite what the menu’s claim that the Japanese Mushroom Gratin contained Enoki, Simeji & Oyster mushrooms, we only tasted straw mushrooms which were lost amid the creamy bechamel sauce. And though the omelet wrapping the freshwater eel in the Umaki was delicious, a larger piece of eel would have allowed the fish flavor to go head to head with the sweet egg.
Since the importance of drinking is almost equal to eating at an izakaya joint, we were disappointed to find that the sake menu had only a limited selection of inexpensive sake. The cheapest (and only) carafe was $45 and the average bottle of sake was in the $50 to $60 range. Opt for the summer sake tasting menu where you can sample three glasses for $18.
Left to our own devises, we ordered seven dishes — more than enough food for two. The bill for two before drinks totaled $60. With friendly, attentive service and many dishes we didn’t get to try, we’ll be returning soon for more.
Daily Candy says:
In a city that loves the see-and-be-seen song, it’s a new tune when a restaurant hides its diners. But that’s how it works at Zenkichi, which opens today in Brooklyn. It’s an izakaya, a modern gastropub that follows the traditional rules of private Japanese dining — which means that you might feel like the only one in the place. (And you can actually hear the conversation at your table.) Wooden tables are enclosed in nooks around a bamboo garden; the waitstaff flutters about and, after you get your food, approaches only when you ring for them. (Which must drive them nuts.) Mirrors conceal the true size of the 80-seat space — funhouse style — making navigating the three-story spot a tad confusing (especially after a few sakes). But there are no illusions with the small-plates menu. Most dishes cost under ten bucks: soft-water eel and cream cheese tempura, Botan shrimp and avocado tartare, fresh tofu, and grapefruit agar gelee for dessert. Wash it down with a smooth glass of Suishin or Sapporo. Now you see it, now you don’t.