The name Zutto may be familiar to connoisseurs and Tribeca locals as it was the first sushi restaurant in the area 30 years ago. Now, while the name and location remain the same, the new chef Joshua Smookler has recreated the core concept and turned Zutto into an Japanese American izakaya-inspired pub. Yes, they still have sushi, but the real star is seen in the Japanese menu, which draws from Smookler’s French culinary training and includes an extensive wine, beer, shochu and sake program.
Chef Smookler, a Korean raised Jewish who grew up in New York, came into the professional kitchen world in an unusual way. After he finished his bachelor’s degree, Smookler was supposed to study medicine. But, he decided first he wanted to see more of the country. He got as far as San Antonio, Texas before he needed to stop driving and work. He saw an ad for wait staff at the French restaurant L’Etoile and went in for the position dressed in a T-shirt, shorts, and sandals. Lucky for him the owner was Jewish and when Smookler started speaking to him in Hebrew, he got the job.
For years, Smookler made Texas his home and worked at the restaurant where he eventually became the wine director. Later, he moved to Los Angeles and then to New York, where he was wine director at Bouley and later Per Se employed him as a captain. But, enchanted with the kitchen, Smookler ended up giving up his lucrative position to intern with the chefs. That’s where he honed his cooking skills and what influences him today. His training can be seen not only in the stunning way he plates his food, but in the solid flavors and innovative bites he offers, especially in his Japanese pub-style food. Take the Steamed buns, Smookler whips up variations that include a classic Asian style pork belly with miso-mayonnaise, tender and sweet short rib, and a Kobe beef patty with hijiki, his version of an American slider. Other menu items also speak to the izakaya style like the finely pounded fish that gets breaded and fried to create salty fish “chips” with a side of spicy edamame and jalapeño dip.
For the signature ramen, the chef’s favorite dish, Smookler starts by making the various broths, a process that takes almost two days to
complete. He pours the rich, velvety liquid over long, tender noodles made from Smookler’s own recipe and tops the dish with various ingredients. Start with the tonkotsu classic bowl, which comes with smoky chasu, sweet pickled ginger, sesame, and kikurage, also known as wood ear mushroom. For heftier fare, try the French-inspired chicken sous vide with cauliflower puree and caramelized Brussel Sprouts, the sweet miso glazed cod with Japanese mushrooms, or Smookler’s take on steak frites, which uses tender Kobe beef ribeye.
While their menu remains sophisticated, the giant communal table in the center, cozy bar, intimate banquette seating, and soft Japanese lanterns hanging over head helps create the down-to-earth vibe Smookler wants. It’s easily a place where you can pop in for a great bowl of ramen, a snack, and a glass of beer or wine. Actually, the beverage list alone is worth the Tribeca trek as it features Asahi on draft that is actually brewed in Japan and shipped here. In bottles they offer spiced Schneider Weisse, rich Allagash Dubbel, and light and nutty brews by Hitachino Nest’s.
On the wine menu Smookler taps into his years working as a wine director and has created a masterpiece of whites, reds, and sparkling from all around the world. He arranges on the menu from lightest in body, to the heaviest. For example, the list of whites starts with a Hautes Noelles’ 2010 Muscadet Sur Lie and ends with Le Vieux Donjon’s 2010 Rhone blend. For reds he features over twodozen bottles including CVNE Imperial’s 1999 Tempranillo and Kenzo Estate’s 2007 Bordeaux blend. All wine prices are a steal and lower than most places charge for the same bottles.
Another feature on the drink list is the flushed out sake list. Where the original restaurant offered few, the new Zutto has around 60 including unfiltered Hakushika “Snow Beauty” Junmai, earthy Shichida, and the pear tinged Yaegaki Mu. Loyal Zutto customers will also find the classic sushi list re-imagined save for the traditional triangle shaped Tribeca roll, which has been on the Zutto menu since the beginning. Other rolls Smookler has created to express the more wild side of things including the animal roll, a feisty maki with short rib, jalapeño, garlic, and a sweet and savory soy glaze, which gets served on the bone from which the beef came. Also innovative is Smookler’s bright yum yum sae woo, which is made with a thin, lime-green tofu skin and wrapped around tempura shrimp, lettuce, and crab, giving it a crisp texture and more of a summer roll feel than traditional sushi.
Dessert is an experience unto itself as Smookler comes up with all sorts for fun creations like the salty-sweet chocolate-caramel crème du pot and a melt-in-your-mouth caramelized brioche with grilled bananas and homemade vanilla ice cream, which is so airy and light it’s hard to believe it’s really ice cream. He also makes a dish called a tasting of three chocolates and rum, which consists of a molten chocolate with three chunks of chocolate, paired with three amazing single barrel aged rums from different parts of South America.
During lunch hours, Zutto offers two prix fixe specials for under $20. One has miso soup, salad with ginger dressing, and your choice of
Kobe beef or portabella steamed buns with fries or a sushi or sashimi platter. The other comes with salad and your choice of ramen.
Whether you come to Zutto for a light snack and a drink, a full dinner, or for lunch, grabbing a seat at the community table or outside, once they open their glorious French doors, gives you the full Japanese pub experience with an international twist.
Zutto is located at 77 Hudson St, New York, NY 10013. And is open for lunch Monday-Friday 11:30am-2:30pm, dinner Sunday-Thursday 5:30-10pm, Friday-Saturday 5:30-11pm. and visit zuttonyc.com.