For most Americans, Japanese food simply means sushi. Zenkichi defies this narrow definition by eschewing sushi altogether and serving contemporary, Tokyo-style small plates inspired by the homesick restaurant owner’s native city. The elaborate dishes, which feature lavish ingredients such as homemade creamy tofu, simmered Berkshire pork belly, and grilled saikyo black cod, have turned the restaurant into a New York magazine Critics' Pick and earned impressive Zagat ratings. Cooks prepare an à la carte menu that changes every three months, as well as omakase—the chef’s tasting menu—that changes every six weeks to eight weeks to incorporate the season’s freshest vegetables and seafood. Raw jewels of the day with super-fresh sashimi or a sweet duck salad with baby greens pair with more than 50 varieties of Zenkichi’s pure, all-natural rice sake.
To actually get into the restaurant, guests must seek out an unmarked, nearly invisible door in a massive, wood-paneled building. Inside, lantern-lit corridors forested with bamboo and lined with flagstone pathways lead to booths with adjustable shades that can unroll to conceal diners as they gaze at each other romantically or prove that they do in fact have two belly buttons. A buzzer summons the waiter whenever guests want more sake or innovative desserts such as a grapefruit agar gelee made with Japanese seaweed or a frozen, chocolate-based black-sesame mousse.
Nana Sushi's chefs blend flavors from across eastern Asia into an eclectically international menu. Although the selection of nigiri, sashimi, and specialty sushi rolls appears prominently, these choices only represent a small part of the menu's diversity. Nana Sushi's pan-Asian, occasional fusion cuisine isn't limited by any borders.
Blue neon lights run the length of Nana Sushi's bar and the dining-room ceiling, giving both a trendy, lounge-like glow. Warm red and orange hues define the rest of the space. Small wooden tables line the dining room's textured wall, and a handful of tables and private booths are also available for small groups.
Black rice. Avocado. Pickled daikon. Jalapeno wasabi sauce. There's only one thing missing from this sushi menu devised by Hells' Kitchen finalist Guy Vaknin: fish. Okay, maybe not just one thing. The colorful, flavorful rolls are devoid of meat, dairy, and added preservatives, relying on the fresh, vibrant taste of unrefined fruits and vegetables. Six grain and black rice replace traditional white, adding nutrients and fiber while making for a dramatic presentation, and ingredients such as chia seeds and tofu lend a proteinous punch, despite the lack of tuna or shrimp. The result is a menu that is close to 90% vegan, as well as one that makes sushi accessible to pregnant women, kids, and anyone still traumatized by The Incredible Mr. Limpet. But don't make the mistake of thinking Vakin's sushi is all color and no taste––sauces such as mango chili and toasted cayenne lend a perfect blend of sweetness and spice, as do garnishes such as spicy cashews, TK: ML