Let’s preface… As hard as I try to be 100% objective and not allow any external factors to influence my posts, this latest visit to Zo was following a visit to my absolute most favorite NYC sushiya, Kuruma Zushi… I was trying so hard, I think I may have overcompensated, and ranked Zo slightly higher than I would have otherwise.
Before I get into the food, let’s talk a little bit about costs… Given that most NYC Omakases are $150 and less, and the flurry of new “budget” omakases with an entry price of $50, Zo’s one and only omakase option (at the sushi bar) at $200, is definitely on the high end. Off the top of my head, I think there’s only a handful of base omakase costs that come higher, Masa, Uchu, Ginza Onodera, Amane, and my fave Kuruma. That said, remember that our costs consideration is not just the base omakase cost, but the per piece costs. Yes, Zo’s cost is $200, but you get a solid 20 pieces for that, averaging to a high, but not outrageous $10/piece. On the other hand, places like Kosaka charges “only” $175 for their omakase, but serves you only 15 pieces (one of which is the egg, which does not qualify as a piece if you ask me), so averaging to $12.50/piece. Or worse, a place like Satsuki, where they charge you a crazy low price of $135 for the sushi omakase, but only provides 10 servings, coming to $13.50/piece. Or places like Morimoto, O-Ya, or Hirohisa, where they don’t serve a true omakase, but the a la carte costs are solid $8-$20 per piece. Wow… this was intended to be a little blurb, I said too much… SORRY! Bottom line, Zo’s costs is not outrageous, and you do get quality, variety, and definitely service for that, it’s for sure, “not-a-steal”, but “acceptable”.
Here comes my second attempt to talk BRIEFLY about a topic… the restaurant… As a “higher end” restaurant, there are certain things you would expect. Service and cleanliness, and smiling happy servers as guarantees, and an engaging chef as a nice-to-have. Zo checks all those points. You come in at your seating time (or up to 15 min prior), greeted by someone who remembers you, offers to take your coat, directs you to your seats, offers you drinks, presents you the oshibori (hand towel), or additional utensils as needed, but slips away, and virtually non-existent when not needed. Take notice the next time you go to a higher-end/fancy restaurant! Have you ever had a server interrupt your conversation? Have you needed to request for a refill of water/wine? Have the server leave a puddle while topping off your water? Or worse, have you ever had all your food in front of you, but you can’t start because you’re missing something? A spoon, a knife, pepper, cheese? While you sit there, fuming, watching your food get cold? In a fine-tuned establishment, those things shouldn’t ever happen. At Zo, they don’t! They operate very smoothly. I haven’t needed or wanted anything that wasn’t readily provided. To top it all off, per my last Zo post, Chef Masa (Masashi Ito) is incredibly friendly and engaging. Ready and willing to share stories of fish, and beyond. Lovely time! Was that better? I guess not much. Yea, I’m a yapper…
Ok, now the meat – the fish! Out of the 20 servings, Masa-san provided a NICE variety of 4 Whites, 4 Reds (tuna), 5 Shells, and then a sprinkle of everything else. He also capped the Oranges to just one, a nice Tazmanian Sea Trout. To me, the amount of servings per category was perfectly distributed tonight. Super happy there. In terms of quality, unfortunately Masa-san did give us one “bad” serving, the Miso-Cod. I don’t get this. Never did. Don’t cook my fish when I’m coming for sushi! And if you’re going to cook it, make sure it’s daaaaaammn good! For a Miso Cod, I’m talking Nobu quality, good! You know who really drives me bonkers with this, the whole cooked white fish situation? Sasabune! Actually, boyfriend would have said Amane, but at least I liked their cooked fishes… For me, a “higher-end” sushi-ya is not allowed ANY bad servings. One is too many. I’ll tolerate an occasional “eh” serving, but not a “bad” one. That was disappointing. On the other spectrum, Masa-san’s BURI was pretty kick-a*s tonight. Aged perfectly, just the right density/texture, and super rich flavors. Unfortunately, that was the only knock out serving. And this is where I really tried. With every serving, I said to myself, do not compare to KURUMA, judge independently, can this qualify as “great”? Sadly, I was only able to identify that one serving as Great, everything else (minus the cod), were just Good, but not Great. Overall solidly GOOD meal, but a long way from being Great… Sorry chef!
Our Omakase tonight:
- Stellar Bay Oyster – Small, but gorgeous looking oyster. Could be sweeter, could be creamier, but still very good.
- HON MAGURO ZUKE – Just realized, I haven’t had ZUKE in a while. With all the crazy mile high sushi topping trends, I wonder if plain old ZUKE is “out of style”. This was good, but just not well marinated enough. You know who does a good ZUKE? Ichimura-san, he does a great ZUKE. Toshio-san of Cagen too! Yea, I miss a good ZUKE…
- SHIMA AJI from Kyushu- On any normal day, I would have said great firmness, great crunch, good flavor, all in all, very good. Today, a non-normal day, poor Zo is going to get the short end of the stick. We just visited KURUMA, the best sushi in NYC, with the most amazing SHIMA AJI.
- HOTATE (Scallop) topped with UNI and Truffles – The use of Truffles with sushi is getting a little out of hand. I think this spoon would have been better with just the HOTATE and UNI.
- MADAI (Seabream) – Back to the basics. Very good.
- HOTATE (Scallop) – Oooh! This one was much better than the Sashimi version. Much sweet, and firmer in texture.
- SAWARA (Spanish Mackerel) – I’m not a fan of SAWARAs, but this was better than most. Firm, and very light and mild in flavor. So I suppose ideal marination…
- BURI (Adult Yellowtail) – Oh my, haven’t had a great BURI in a while. First great of the evening. Really, very flavorful. So rich!
- SHIMA AJI from Kyushu- What I’m not understanding so far, is why the repetition between the sashimi and the sushi courses? We repeated the HOTATE, and now a repeat of the SHIMA AJI as well? Reminds me of the “budget omakases” where they give you the same 7-8 fishes, but just dressed differently. This cut was equally as good as the sashimi version, probably a notch better, even firmer and crunchier.
- MASA (Tasmanian Sea Trout) – Check out the fat on this baby! Served with just a tiny bit of sea salt, what a treat! Not a huge fan of oranges on my omakase, but this was the one and only serving, and this was a fantastic on. Very, very good.
- SHIROEBI (Sweet white shrimp) – Very Very good, not complaints. Firm, dense, sweet SHIROEBI topped with Ossetra.
- CHUTORO (Medium Fatty Tuna) – Rich, deep, buttery cut, with no veins, not at all chewy, lovely flavor.
- OTORO (Super Fatty Tuna) – You know what? It seems every chef loves to ABURI (torch) their OTOROs. I don’t get it. I’m all for ABURI-ing skins of certain fish, but I rarely get ABURI-ing of the actual fish meat. This was a perfectly good cut of fish, just had its thunder stolen with the ABURIing.
- SUZUKI (Sea bass) – I got super excited, thinking this was a NODOGURO, but learned it was a SUZUKI. It was very, very good though.
- KATSUO (Bonito/Skipjack) – Not a huge fan of KATSUOs, but this one wasn’t bad. Firm but still tender, not super rich compared to most KATSUOs. Served with grated ginger and chopped scallions, respectable.
- UNI from Hokkaido – I have two photos, boyfriend’s was the sushi, mine was the sashimi (I was starting to get full). Yes, both are from the same box. Difference is top layer versus bottom layer. I took a sampling of each, they were both good, fairly sweet, fairly nutty. Only problem, mine, the sashimi version, was a little bit watery.
- Black Cod with Sweet Miso – What??? This was fully cooked black cod. I don’t get it, I don’t like it.
- Wagyu Beef – As usual, we asked for ours not to be torched, we prefer our wagyu raw. Not sure how I feel about the olive tapanade topping, but meat was not veiny, not chewy, very yum!
- Blue Crab Hand Roll – This was good… In the old days, Sasabune’s Blue Crab hand roll used to have me traveling ALL THE WAY to the upper east. These days, everyone and their uncle makes it. While Sasabune is still my favorite, I don’t think the others are that far behind. Namely, Sugarfish and Domo are both very decent. Zo’s Blue Crab was a bit underwhelming, good enough, but nothing to write home about.
- KINMEDAI (Golden Eye Snapper) – As our final serving, we get to choose. I chose the KINMEDAI. Unfortunately my KINMEDAI skin was not ABURIed. That kinda blew… This KINEMDAI’s skin is fairly thick, super fatty and oily, and really needs the ABURIing to render to optimal flavors.
- TAMAGO – I passed on the egg – sorry no photo!
- Yuzu Sorbet – Perfect ending!