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Zenkichi
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Zenkichi

A hidden gem in Brooklyn

ADDRESS: 77 N. Sixth St.,at Wythe Ave., Brooklyn
PHONE: (718) 388-8985
DINNER: Tues.-Sat.,6-11:30 p.m.; Sun., 5:30-11 p.m.
CUISINE: Japanese brasserie
VIBE: Clandestine speakeasy
OCCASION: Romantic date; under-the-radar dining


DON’T-MISS DISH: Grilled miso oysters; scallops tempura
PRICES: Small plates $5-$14; desserts $6-$6.50
RESERVATIONS: Highly recommended

If James Bond were craving Japanese in Brooklyn, I imagine it would look a lot like Zenkichi.

An air of mystery and glamour begins at an unmarked wood door on a lonely street corner at the edge of Williamsburg.
As you descend a flight of stairs into this three-story labyrinth of
corridors, you’ll feel like you’ve stumbled upon some hidden
“otherworld” decorated with Japanese lanterns, bamboo and pebble-strewn
floors.

Diners are escorted to dimly lit wooden booths and secluded from
other guests by bamboo shades. There are tabletop call buttons to
summon servers, who smoothly duck in and out of dining nooks to take
orders or deliver dishes. It is no wonder Zenkichi is so romantic:
Husband-and-wife team Shaul Margulies and Motoko Watanabe designed and run this 70-seat restaurant.

This Japanese brasserie could easily get by on its looks. Yet the
small-plates menu is as beguiling as the intimate surroundings.
Luscious oysters – grilled in a red miso sauce and presented in an
oyster shell – taste as opulent as they look. So do glistening beads of
ikura (salmon roe) mingled with salmon sashimi and tucked into a
vibrant lime.

And rarely does tempura reach as luxurious heights as it does here.
Delicate scallops are wrapped in a shiso plum leaf and coated in a
marvelously crunchy batter. As for the shrimp tempura, a salty dab of
Camembert cheese keeps the sweetness of tiger shrimp in perfect check.
Both variations are coupled with green tea salt – a simple accessory
that kicks the flavors up an intense notch.

The ingredients are as fresh and distinguished as much of the cooking, a collaborative effort by chefs Mikio Sano (Inagiku) and Tetsuya Akikawa
(Jewel Bako). While the menu is a balancing act of traditional and
contemporary Japanese cuisine, there is subtle invention at every turn.
A gratin of Japanese mushrooms gets an aggressively rich béchamel sauce
and a panko breadcrumb finish. It’s the kind of dish you might find in Tokyo
and is as exciting a discovery in Williamsburg. Instead of the typical
skewering route, moist chicken meatballs are stuffed into a
hollowed-out bamboo stalk and glazed in a sweet soy sauce.

There are weaker stretches of the menu, including a lifeless duck
salad and the inevitable appearance of miso cod, touted by waitstaff as
a signature dish. After a two-day marinade, the black cod had
resurfaced a mealy disaster. And sometimes the kitchen embraced
ingredients to a fault: A chewy salmon belly in a green tea dashi broth
and a crème brulée were both wildly overpowered by green tea measures.
Other than a frozen black sesame mousse, dessert is not their strong
suit.

But there’s a magnificent sake list, with more than 40 offerings by
the glass, not to be missed. Sake is such a centerpiece of the
restaurant that an entire selection of small plates is labeled “sake
accompaniments.” Another draw is the omakase tasting menu ($88 per
couple) with seasonal delicacies, such as winter yellowtail with silky
sea urchin. Zenkichi attracts a slew of couples and word-of-mouth
clientele who want to keep this gem to themselves. I can’t say I blame
them.

So do glistening beads of
ikura (salmon roe) mingled with salmon sashimi and tucked into a
vibrant lime.

And rarely does tempura reach as luxurious heights as it does here.
Delicate scallops are wrapped in a shiso plum leaf and coated in a
marvelously crunchy batter. As for the shrimp tempura, a salty dab of
Camembert cheese keeps the sweetness of tiger shrimp in perfect check.
Both variations are coupled with green tea salt – a simple accessory
that kicks the flavors up an intense notch.

The ingredients are as fresh and distinguished as much of the cooking, a collaborative effort by chefs Mikio Sano (Inagiku) and Tetsuya Akikawa
(Jewel Bako). While the menu is a balancing act of traditional and
contemporary Japanese cuisine, there is subtle invention at every turn.
A gratin of Japanese mushrooms gets an aggressively rich béchamel sauce
and a panko breadcrumb finish. It’s the kind of dish you might find in Tokyo
and is as exciting a discovery in Williamsburg. Instead of the typical
skewering route, moist chicken meatballs are stuffed into a
hollowed-out bamboo stalk and glazed in a sweet soy sauce.

There are weaker stretches of the menu,
including a lifeless duck salad and the inevitable appearance of miso
cod, touted by waitstaff as a signature dish. After a two-day marinade,
the black cod had resurfaced a mealy disaster. And sometimes the
kitchen embraced ingredients to a fault: A chewy salmon belly in a
green tea dashi broth and a crème brulée were both wildly overpowered
by green tea measures. Other than a frozen black sesame mousse, dessert
is not their strong suit.

But there’s a magnificent sake list, with more than 40 offerings by
the glass, not to be missed. Sake is such a centerpiece of the
restaurant that an entire selection of small plates is labeled “sake
accompaniments.” Another draw is the omakase tasting menu ($88 per
couple) with seasonal delicacies, such as winter yellowtail with silky
sea urchin. Zenkichi attracts a slew of couples and word-of-mouth
clientele who want to keep this gem to themselves. I can’t say I blame
them.

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