Tokyo Rose 

Zenkichi, 77 N 6th St, 718-388-8985
Price range: $25-40

One crisp evening, walking through the post-industrially cool sameness of Williamsburg, I came to an unadorned wooden wall with a single red light. Either this was Zenkichi, the Japanese gastro-pub I’d come for, or a postmodern brothel — basically a win-win. I pushed on the wall below the light, and it effortlessly opened into a small river-stone entryway, with bamboo growing through the ceiling, and velvet ropes blocking access to the dining room. Actually, dining alcoves.

The hostess whisked us along a meandering stone path to our table, partitioned from the rest of the three-story restaurant by dark slatted wood and pull-down screens. A single spot hung from the ceiling, illuminating the table. You would think getting the waitress’ attention would be a problem, but in the grand tradition of hospitals and airlines, tables are equipped with a call button.

The waitress came, and in adorably broken English explained the modern Japanese tapas menu — nearly devoid of raw fish — and sake list. We started with three plates and two sakes: mine, a rich, cloudy nigori; hers, described as marshmallowy on the menu. Our first plate, Monkfish with Foie Gras in Ponzu ($7), was rolled tightly and sliced into disks. This was an eye-opener, as the delicate flavors of fish and foie melded in the exuberant ponzu. Up next was Eel and Cream Cheese Tempura ($8) — what I would imagine great Japanese food to be: sweet and crunchy with the sparkle of the sea. Our third dish, humble Aged Ashi Tofu ($9), was the best tofu I’ve ever eaten. Homemade daily, it had the luscious texture of crème brulee, nutty undertones of sesame, lightly fried, served in a sprightly dashi stock.

Then, another round of amazing sake that I’ll never be able to find elsewhere, and two more plates. The first was the phenomenally sweet and complex Pork Kakumi ($9), a large cube of pork belly simmered for three days. Our waitress made sure we knew to eat the fat — the bulk of the cube — and we complied, till the bowl was empty and grease stained my chin. Our last dish of the night was another tofu dish, Warm Tofu with Minced Chicken Sauce ($9). Served elsewhere, it may have been great, but we knew we were missing the acidic dashi that brings out tofu’s flavor (yes, it does have one) and the bits of chicken detracted from the luxurious texture.

This was truly the most unique and satisfying dining experience I’ve had in years, even though not every dish was a masterpiece. The space is both dramatic and intimate, perfect for small groups or romance, a piece of Tokyo right in Williamsburg.


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