Zenkichi – Japanese Paradise

The Boyfriend and I came across Zenkichi, located on N6th Street in Williamsburg, while we were waiting for our table at Sea Thai, diagonally across the street. We decided to do some wandering while we waited and noticed this completely boarded up restaurant – the door doesn’t even open from the outside. We were immediately intrigued but put it in the back of our minds as we ate delicious Thai food that night.

Zenkichi came back into our lives when I noticed that they were selling a Groupon for $25 towards $50 of food. I immediately purchased it since it helps in making Zenkichi a little friendlier to a college student’s budget. I made reservations a week in advance since I wasn’t sure how full they get on a regular basis. The Groupon also expires before Christmas so I knew a lot of people would be trying to make use of it.

They don’t open until 6pm every night so we were one of the first tables to arrive. We were seated on their 3rd floor, in a secluded table-for-two. Each table is separated by a bamboo curtain so you have the ultimate privacy. Each couple is very respectful of others and everyone spoke quietly to their dates. The total atmosphere felt very intimate and close. I definitely felt like I was having a nice dinner date without feeling claustrophobic.

Photo credits to Zenkichi
Photo credits to Zenkichi

Since each table is so secluded and Zenkichi prides themselves on privacy, there are buttons to call for the waitress on each table. You press the button if you want service and your waitress comes almost immediately. We only used the button once during the entire meal because our waitress popped in and out to take our finished plates periodically without being told to. She also greeted us every single time we returned, which was a nice touch.

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We both ordered a bottle of Sapparo ($5.50), which our waitress brought over right away. After about five more minutes, our waitress brought over our first dish of the night – Cold Fresh Tofu ($7.95). This dish features their own homemade tofu served with a light dashi sauce. The dish comes in a very travel friendly bowl. The tofu is on the bottom, the condiments go on top of the tofu and the dashi broth (on the far left) fits perfectly on top of the two. It was so cute! The tofu itself was perhaps the best I have ever had. The tofu was fresh and silky and the broth was so tasty that I even drank the rest in my plate.

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Our second dish was the Anago & Cream Cheese Tempura ($9.95), which features cream cheese wrapped around soft eel and then deep-fried. The cream cheese, surprisingly, stayed pretty solid even after being fried. The two complimented each other very nicely and melts in your mouth! We were given a dipping sauce and green tea salt to accompany it. I decided to use only the green tea salt because it was such an unusual condiment. I was so shocked that such a thing existed!

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Our third dish was the Potato Mochi ($7.95), which features deep fried potato rice cakes served with spicy mayo. These mochi balls were so soft! Every time I bit into one, I felt like I was eating a cloud. The potato was very fluffy and light. The spicy mayo wasn’t too spicy, which is just the way I like it. If you’re a mashed potato lover, this is definitely the dish for you!

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Our fourth dish was the Nayoya Teba Chicken Wings ($8.95), which features crispy fried chicken wings. Their menu says that they use a special blend of Japanese spices – whatever they’re using, it’s so delicious. The chicken skin was crunchy and the chicken meat was very juicy. Each bite came right off the bone.

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Our fifth dish was the Rocksalt Jidori Chicken ($10.95), which features grilled free-range chicken that is served three ways – by itself, with lemon juice, and with a yuzu pepper paste, which is a little spicy. This dish was the Boyfriend’s favorite of the two chicken dishes because it was very simple but tasted fantastic. The chicken stayed very juicy, which is often a problem with chicken dishes.

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Our last savory dish was the Kakuni , or shimmered pork belly in a traditional Japanese dashi broth ($12.95). This was a very large portion of pork belly for that price. In other Japanese restaurants, I’ve been charged more for a lot less. One bite into the pork belly, I knew that this is what true Japanese pork belly should taste like. The pork belly was buttery and melted the moment I put it in my mouth. No chewing required! The broth was also just as good. The Boyfriend and I were actually drinking just the broth when we finished the pork belly!

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Since we finished our beers by now, the Boyfriend suggested we order some dessert sake to go along with our desserts. We decided on the Hime Zen ($7.50 per glass), which has a lot of fruity undertones. You can taste a hint of apples, peaches, and citrus in the sake. Both of us aren’t big sake fans but we loved this one.

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We decided to order two desserts because we weren’t sure which one to pick. Normally we order one to share, but Zenkichi’s options were just too tempting! Our first dessert to arrive was the Frozen Black Sesame Mousse ($6.95). This is almost like black sesame ice cream but it was a lot less melty and milky. The mousse was nice and cold after a meal of hot and savory foods. This one is definitely a must try!

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The best dessert, however, goes to the Mineoke Milk Tofu ($6.95), which is made with heavy cream, kudzu starch and strawberries. The result was something that didn’t taste like tofu – it tasted more like Chinese steamed milk, which is a favorite of mine. I was so impressed with this dish. The tofu was so silky and smooth that I wanted more than just that tiny cup. If you have to pick one dessert only, I would recommend that you go with this one.

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We ordered about 6 savory dishes and 2 sweet dishes to share and we were completely satisfied by the end of our meal. They recommend that you pick 3-4 dishes per guest, which is almost what we did. Their recommendations were correct and we were pleasantly surprised that 6 savory dishes were enough to fill us up. We were in and out of the restaurant in about an hour and a half, which I thought was decent timing for a dinner for two. Our waitress was very attentive and nice. Overall, I was very satisfied with my meal. I will definitely be back to try out some of their other dishes.

Dessert Club Chikalicious

After countless unsuccessful attempts to stop by Dessert Club Chikalicious, the Boyfriend and I finally made it! After dinner in the East Village, we headed over for some dessert to finish off our night. I was actually eying the banana pudding at our dinner restaurant but the Boyfriend suggested that we walk the two blocks over to Chikalicious to grab dessert instead.

When we arrived, all four two-seater tables were taken and only the bar was available. After we ordered, however, one of the tables opened up and I quickly grabbed it. It does get a bit cramped inside the tiny store front, but the desserts are more than worth it.

We decided to get the banana pudding ($4.95) since we didn’t get it after dinner. The Boyfriend says that the banana pudding here is better than Magnolia’s famous banana pudding. I had to agree with him. Despite the smaller size in an order, the banana pudding here tasted fresher. The bananas were abundant and the pudding wasn’t too sweet. As someone who has been trying to replicate the pudding at Magnolia’s at home, I can definitely taste the difference in the two. Magnolia’s, while good, is a lot more sweet and the Nilla wafers are soaked through – indicating that it had been made the night before and left to soak. The pudding at Chikalicious had some Nilla wafers that were soaked and some that were still crunchy. I wished there was more to it when we got to the end!

I also wanted to try one of their cupcakes and the S’mores ($2.85) one caught my eye. The idea of a toasted marshmallow top to a cupcake was very different. I have to say it was very good. Although the cupcake itself wasn’t the best texture that I’ve ever had, the marshmallow top made it well worth it. The top was so fluffy and sweet that I felt like I was eating a cloud. Yum!

We also ordered a Raspberry bubble tea with lychee tapioca to go and it was a perfect thirst quencher! The lychee tapioca was true to its name. Service is quick and friendly – I can definitely see myself coming back to try their adult chocolate pudding or their brioche bread pudding.

Cocoron

Since the entire day was pretty much around 30 degrees, the Boyfriend and I decided to head to Cocoron for some hot soba. We’re used to eating our soba in a cold broth so this was a new experience for the both of us. Cocoron’s lunch hours run from 12:00pm to 3:00pm at both their locations. We arrived around 1:30 at their Soho location and were seated immediately. The restaurant was about 1/3 full but filled up as we started our appetizers.

I decided to go with some hot tea since it was so cold outside. They have two hot teas on the menu – soba tea and Gyokuro Premium Green Tea (both at $1.50). I went with the green tea, which was delicious! The matcha powder comes in a little basket, which is dipped into the cup whenever it is refilled with hot water.

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Ever since we had the cold tofu at Zenkichi, we have been craving the dish. After finding out that Cocoron serves their own Homemade Silky Tofu ($5.00), we knew we had to try it. Unlike Zenkichi, they don’t offer a broth to go with the tofu – just soy sauce for you to flavor the tofu with. The tofu was indeed very silky and soft but I still think Zenkichi’s cold tofu is smoother.

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Their Soho location doesn’t offer their signature Stamina Dip Soba so I went with their Chicken Meatball Dip Soba ($12.80) instead. I ordered the regular portion, which was more than enough to fill me up. The soba comes to the table in a tray with the works on it. The waitress then lights the fire underneath the stone slab. The fire keeps the hot broth at a slow boil as you dip your soba into it. My broth has tiny chicken meatballs in it, which were very juicy. The soba was cooked al dente and the fact that they aren’t sitting in the broth waiting for me to eat it kept it that way for the entire meal. This way of eating soba is a bit of a hassle but the perfect noodles in each bite more than made up for it.

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After we finished our soba, our waitress brought over a big box of hot water and a laminated information card. The card explained that by adding water to our left over broth and drinking it, we would be getting a lot of nutrients that had left the soba during the cooking process. It was nice that we could finish the delicious broth!

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Everyone on Yelp raves about Cocoron’s desserts so we decided to go with two of them. First was their Coconut Milk ($5.50) with frozen bananas, strawberries, blueberries and mango. The bottom of the bowl is layered with tapiocas, which made the overall dessert very sweet and smooth. The frozen fruits were very cold at first but after a few bites, I couldn’t get enough of the frozen bananas! This dessert is definitely big enough to share.

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Our second dessert was their Annin Tofu, ($4.00) or their version of a panna cotta. The serving size is a bit small for the price but it was pretty delicious. The tofu was smooth and sweet, which went down quite easily.

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Overall I was very impressed with Cocoron. The bill was a bit pricey for a regular lunch, but part of the reason was because we wanted to try everything. I know I would be back but next time I would probably just order a soba.