Monday, December 21, 2009

Veg Out: Zama

With a choice between dining at the newly opened Sampan or the even more virginal Zama, the latter won out on proximity. Zama might be the warmest restaurant I've ever walked into, a welcome feature. We considered sake. I leapt for a Mai Tai, knowing full well what I was getting into. They had to turn the heat down. We sipped the rum off the top and left the juice in the glass because it felt like Spring Break. We were keeping our tops on.

So much wood in one narrow room gave Zama a lengthened look. They opted for clear chopsticks. The lighting was appropriate, a soft, restrained glow.

Tofu prepared tableside tends to be a pain in the ass that few restaurants will recognize as an appetizing diversion. Our server instructed us not to touch the hot pot as she lit the flame, estimating that it would be ready in about seven minutes. Because we are food science nerds, we took note of the time and found that the flame went out in ten minutes. Trifling tofu cookery. We hoped that the tofu would have firmed up, because this seemed like a brave, unpredictable addition to the menu if it had passed the estimated mark.

Table tofu

It was how fresh tofu should be. Slightly milky and almost sweet, eaten with a spoon. Whew. Nice one, Zama tofuists.

The mushroom sauce, of maitake and bamboo shoot, was added on top for a bite that was creamy, rich, and made Kikkoman look pathetic in umami comparison.

The red miso soup with tofu was much more aggressive than regular miso, salty and smoky and biting.

 Sushi so fine that the camera ate one first.

Our generous platter of veggie sushi included a mushroom roll, a cucumber roll, inari, and assorted nigiri. We tacked on a roll of  pickled burdock root (the Gobo) and more inari. The rolls were neat and precise. The cucumber stood out with an especially clean flavor, turning a typically boring roll into something of mention. For all the times that I have enjoyed inari, the tofu skin here was moist and tasted fresher than most.

By that time, the room had cooled down, the Mai Tai died never knowing the recess of my liver. But inside, we were already picturing a future return visit.

Zama, 128 South 19th Street

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