Happy New Year! We recently celebrated our 1st blog-iversary, which was quite exciting. We love blogging (and eating) even more than we did when we started, so thanks to all of our readers for encouraging lots of delicious food consumption.
Now that we're gearing back up into work- including a hectic move across town for my entire lab- we've been more than ready to get back into the Philly food scene. To kick things off, we compared "must-eat" lists with our foodie friend and found a good match- Zama. The sushi restaurant right off Rittenhouse has been on our radar for quite some time, particularly after the veritable Craig LaBan awarded it 3 bells!
We found it surprisingly quiet at 7 PM on a weekend night, though it did pick up a bit towards the end of our two hour meal. The long and narrow room is occupied by a lengthy sushi bar and a row of high-backed booths. Heavy on the bamboo and paper sculpture, Zama has the look of a typical sushi bar, with a touch of "upscale". However, 3 bells had us hoping for a unique dining experience...
A & I started with a Yelp recommended dish- the seaweed salad. The "Kaiso salad" with octopus ($12) was pretty straightforward. The layered salad was composed of several varieties of seaweed- purple, deep green, and a particularly crunchy clear type. Thin slices of octopus were carefully propped on top- simple in their chewy and mild, yet delicate nature. The "salad dressing" tasted faintly of sesame and vinegar. Altogether rather plain, though the ingredients stand on their own and could easily be overtaken by bolder flavors.
We were also served our "side dish" at the beginning of the meal- a bowl of kabocha squash ($5). I'll take a second to mention how much I liked their dishes- plain white yet with elegant architecture- curves and corners that were pleasing to the eye. Bite-sized pieces of soft squash were also served simply- spending some time in the oven brings out natural sweetness and smokiness in the squash that only requires a few subtle ingredient additions. My favorite thing about this squash is the fact that the skin is almost imperceptible- easy to cook and to eat. We all agreed the squash's heartier flavor base could be played with a bit more, perhaps with a bit of a kick.
A chose a roll off the maki menu- an unusual combination of smoked salmon and dried fig ($8 for 6 pieces). This actually ended up being our mutual favorite of the meal- perhaps because it combined two of our favorite foods. Smoky, salty salmon and sweet, rich figs worked well together- no surprise when you consider their characteristics. The textures were also complementary- smooth, silky fish and firm, seed-filled figs encased in sushi rice. Add a dab of wasabi and a dip in the soy sauce.. what's not to love?
We also opted to try something "cooked"- typically a more dangerous portion of a sushi menu. The half-order of "Scottish Salmon Teriyaki" ($13) was served on three wooden skewers alongside a small pile of tender baby bok choy. Thin crispy slices of garlic greatly enhanced the rather plain salmon, that sadly, dryly flaked apart. Though the sauce was full of flavor- primarily garlic and carmelized onion- it wasn't quite enough to save the fish. A few grilled green onions and the bok choy kept the dish from being a complete disappointment.
Specialty rolls are a great way for a restaurant to express its personality. We thought the "Bronzizzle" had a sassy name and a good mix of our classic favorites- cucumber and avocado- with a fish neither of us have tried raw- bronzino. The inside out roll ($16 for 8 pieces) was topped with crunchy sprouts and a not-so-generous drizzle of yuzu sauce and sesame oil. I know the standard for rolls like these are to enjoy them as is, and I promise, I tried. One piece was consumed whole, while another was deconstructed, allowing me to appreciate the subtle flavor of the raw fish. It just... wasn't exciting. Unfortunately, wasabi and soy sauce just made it taste like your standard California roll, which I could have purchased for 1/4 of the price. Perhaps my palate isn't quite refined enough, but this specialty roll was lacking the "special." However, our friend's "Mad Dog" roll, named after Ryan Madson, hit the spot with jalapeno, yellowtail, tuna, and a creamy avocado salsa.
We finished the meal with a few items off the dessert menu- conveniently sold in small sizes with an equally convenient price tag- 3 for $10. We chose the sesame brown sugar tart, layered peanut butter chocolate cake, and spice cake with pumpkin pie custard and white chocolate mousse. The latter two carried on with the theme of the night- plain. Not particularly sweet or really offering much flavor at all; and while the mousse layers had a nice texture, the cakes were a bit dry and crumbly. The chocolate and crispy rice topping for the chocolate cake was a nice touch- we ate it separately which perhaps is why this small treat seemed a bit boring. Again, we agreed on our favorite- the sesame tart. Reminscent of sweet and greasy sesame rice balls found in any Chinese bakery, the tart was a bit lighter with a crisp crust and minimal oil.
While our overall experience was certainly pleasant, we all left Zama feeling a lot underwhelmed. The prices were steep and the majority of the food lacked inspiration. Our friend summed it up nicely with "...so, why was that 3 bells?" Next time we want sushi, we'll bypass Zama on our way to Doma...
128 S. 19th Street