Izakaya ZUMA StyleBy Rigche Ma
Likened to pubs and taverns where salarymen gather for drinks and conversations over small plates, the expression ‘Izakaya’ has earned its spot in the English dictionary while retaining a distinct Japanese flavor. Izakaya accommodates a spectrum from hole-in-the-wall to classy chic where, perhaps, exclusivity – of both place and palate, is a draw factor for a high profile and discerning clientele looking to wine and dine with a touch of class. Zuma, which prides its menu and extensive Sake list as contemporary Japanese cuisine, definitely claims its seat on this latter end.
One of the most highly anticipated restaurants to open in New York City this year, Zuma – co-founded by award-winning chef Rainer Becker and renowned restaurateur Arjun Waney, has already gathered a loyal following in 8 other major cities in the world before calling the somewhat aloof and glossy exterior of 261 Madison Ave (between 38th and 39th) its newest home. Zuma’s interior boasts three separate dining sections. First, the main dining area, which has both semi-private booths and bar seating, offering diners choice views of the open kitchen where chefs toil over the central Robata grill and surrounding stoves, in an intense and intricately choreographed dance, where masters skillfully create delicate renditions of classic sushi favorites.
Next, there’s the bar and lounge, which is found on the spacious second floor, and stays open after the main kitchen closes. And finally, there’s a sizeable space, accessible from its own stairs, and is reserved for functions and private parties.
For a leisurely evening of socializing among close friends or colleagues, Asian Fusion recommends beginning with a Zuma Ginjo – Zuma’s in-house sake label. Zuma Ginjo is specially brewed in the Akita prefecture with the waters of Lake Biwa (the largest freshwater lake in Japan) to produce a very subtle sake, refreshing and smooth. Zuma Ginjo is best enjoyed when paired with Izakaya standards such as edamame, dusted with sea salt, or cold dishes such as the yellowtail sashimi with green chili relish, ponzu and pickled garlic. The Alaskan king crab with ponzu lime butter is done with such precision; the creamy meat slides off in perfect pieces.
Move on to the watercress and avocado salad with fresh wasabi and cucumber, lightly topped with tempura crumbs, and leave room for the signature courses such as the marinated black cod, which melts on your tongue, and comes wrapped in a hoba leaf. Or, fill up with something heartier; the spicy beef tenderloin served with sesame, red chili and sweet soy, then balance these – because Izakaya is all about sharing around the table, with bites of scallop tartar – lush and juicy, peppered with unexpected punches of wasabi ponzu.
Most impressive, and testament to the ingenuity of Zuma chefs, are the vegetables on the Robata menu – simple produce grilled to heavenly perfection. The sweet corn with shiso butter and shichimi pepper is presented in convenient chunks on short wooden skewers, stacked like a miniature pyramid. The common corn is transformed into an indescribable sensation that is succulent, sweet and savory and rounded off with a memorable and lingering crunch.
But don’t stop just yet. An Izakaya-styled evening should last, Zuma’s menu continues, and the wine list is long. Eat into the night with the selection of sake-concocted cocktails, often bold and pleasantly surprising. Or, engage with your server, whom you will find to be knowledgeable, and ask to be dazzled with dessert.
Visit the Zuma website at www.zumarestaurant.com. Zuma NYC is located at 261 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016.