For the uninitiated, Japanese food seems to be little more than sushi, usually the prepackaged stuff they sell at the market. It’s good, fast, and cheap. But for those in the know, Japanese cuisine is a vast wonderland for people with refined tastes, from sushi and sashimi to elegant noodle dishes. There are even some variations on familiar Western favorites, furthering the notion that transcontinental boundaries are breaking down in all realms of culture, right on down to food.
As guests of Zutto Japanese American Pub we had edamame for appetizer, garnished with black sesame seed salt. Edamame is a popular Japanese appetizer, a steamed dish of soybeans that are eaten out of their pods. The sesame salt gave it a unique, earthy flavor.
For our first round of food, the chef brought out a platter of sushi and sashimi consisting of tuna belly, salmon, snapper, sweet shrimp, and sea urchin. At its best, tuna is deliciously fatty, and this was no exception. The salmon was terrific as well, but it was the snapper, sweet shrimp, and sea urchin that really made this plate special. The snapper tasted very fresh, unique in its flavor. True to its name, the shrimp had a natural sweetness to it, which was certainly a new taste experience for Alexa and me. However, the sea urchin was the true delicacy – it borders on being indescribable, with a natural spiciness to it that can’t be found in other fish.
For our second plate, the chef brought out steamed buns with meat fillings. The first was the pork belly bun. Pork belly has long been thought of as a cheap, filler meat, but in the past several years food aficionados have come to appreciate it as a flavorful, fatty cut of meat. This particular serving was accompanied with a tart barbecue sauce along with chopped radish. The second was the braised short rib bun, which was tender and savory. The steamed buns were soft and fluffy, adding a nice compliment to the texture of both the pork and the ribs.
The final entrées we had were ramen. Now, when I saw that this restaurant specialized in ramen I had a flashback to my time as an undergrad, when I was living as a microwave gourmet. This is nothing like the 25 cents a pop noodles I lived off of from 2005 to 2009. The classic ramen uses pork as its base, while the seafood ramen featured clams and large prawns (opening photo). Both were delicious, each catering to a different sensibility for taste.
The desserts were also incredible – the bread pudding was to die for, but the coffee and donuts was definitely unique. The homemade donuts are tasty without seeming overly fried, and the coffee wasn’t coffee at all – it was a frozen coffee dessert prepped to look like a cup of coffee. It made for a pleasant surprise, and an even more fitting end to an incredible meal.
Photos by Alexa Altman
Zutto Japanese American Pub
77 Hudson Street, NYC