Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Restaurant Review: Zu Robata

A couple of years ago, I had read an article in the LA Times called "My Dinner With Andrea and the Fuqi Feipian Gang," written by David Shaw. It chronicled the outings of a group of food-obsessed Los Angelinos - some were artists, others were in the food business, Andrea herself was a writer and there were usually other eccentric, interesting people added to the mix. This group would get together a few times a month to go eat a a selected restaurant where Andrea would work out some sort of prix fixe menu at a very low price per person. I remember reading about this and silently wished that I could be included in such a group and have thought of the article from time to time since then, wondering where this fun loving bunch were dining at next.

Fast forward to a few months ago....I get an email from an Andrea Rademan which simply stated, "Might like to invite you to join my dining group on one of our food treks. Can you tell me a little about yourself, and do you eat a wide variety of foods?" Not having remembered the exact name of the lady in the article, it didn't really click until I googled her name and realized that this was THAT woman! Here I was, almost three years after having read the article, and I was actually being invited to join the group! I sent her my reply and she invited me to a dinner, but it was in the middle of my Mexico vacation so I sadly couldn't attend. I eagerly waited for another invite which did come last week, and I was set to attend my very first dinner with the group.

Our destination was Zu Robata near Brentwood, and the chef, Ricardo Zarate, used to be in the dining group years back when he was the chef at Sai Sai in downtown Los Angeles. After working with Gordon Ramsey in London, he returned to Los Angeles and opened up this Japanese fusion restaurant. Andrea had set up a prix fixe, multicourse meal for the group at $25/person- that amount included tax, tip and a Shōchū tasting in addition to the food. J and I walked into the beautiful space and immediately saw their Wall of Shochu- big, glass jars of it, each filled with a different fruit to infuse the alcohol with the flavor and color of each fruit. We saw the group gathering at a few tables in the back so we made our way to them.

The group took up five tables of six people each, and as much as we tried our best to meet everyone that night, it was nearly impossible. Our table included a man who had invented a ginger cocktail mix, two writers and one entertainment publicist. We were each poured a sample of three different shochus- blueberry/lemon, raspberry and a sake/lemon concoction. I really loved the blueberry/lemon and the raspberry one was also delicious, but we agreed that the combo of lemon, sake and shochu tasted more like something that could be used to clean windows. Even though the other two went down like water, I was careful not to drink too quickly since the bartender told us proudly that the shochu they get is much higher in alcohol than your average shochu- it was 70 proof. Eeps. It tasted like punch, honestly, so I made sure to pace myself.

After a few introductory stories, we all sat back and waited for the parade of food to begin. We started with two kinds of edamame- one plain and one smeared with a black bean sauce- very good. Next came a salad of mixed greens and large chunks of gobo (burdock root) which was excellent. I'd only had thin strands of gobo before- never served like this in such big pieces- but it was a great, crunchy contrast to the soft greens.

Next came some fried oysters in their shells with wakame and a ponzu dressing. The oyster itself had a nice texture, but the ponzu-dressed wakame that was the accompaniment was so tart that it pretty much killed any ocean flavor the oyster may have had. Everyone puckered up at the taste of that sour liquid.

Our nice waitress brought out what looked like a traditional salmon carpaccio dressed with ponzu, but she introduced the dish as "salmon carpaccio with a sweet teriyaki sauce" so I was actually like "oh cool- something different." When I put a slice of the fatty salmon in my mouth, it was clear that the dressing had nothing to do with teriyaki and was, indeed, ponzu. Don't get me wrong- it was good- but there were several other instanced throughout the evening where the wait staff were inaccurate about the descriptions of the food.

A giant block of ice was the plate decoration for our sashimi course, which had fresh slices of maguro, yellow tail and sweet shrimp. All were tasty but were absolutely dwarfed by the glacier on the plate.

The sushi course included a dragon roll and a couple of smaller rolls- one of which was rolled in a mixture of schimi powder and yuzu- a great flavor combo that really kicked up the spiciness factor.

The main course was a butterfish or codfish in miso, wrapped in a leaf accompanied by a cucumber salad. The fish was melt-in-your-mouth tender and seasoned well. The vinegared cucumber salad was a nice contrast to the sweetness of the fish.

We closed out the savory courses with a bowl of miso soup. Nice, but nothing out of the ordinary.

The dessert course included a layered macha and chocolate cake, profiteroles and fried bananas dusted with cinnamon sugar. All were very good and not at all too sweet, which suited me just fine. I particularly liked the cake.

After some more conversation, the night came to a close. The company was very good and I look forward to future outings. I have to be honest though, and say that Zu Robata offered nothing new, nothing inventive and really nothing that I can't get at my local sushi place, with the exception of the desserts which weren't stellar enough to make the trip back for. All of the ingredients are fresh, but the preparations- dragon rolls, salmon carpaccio, sashimi......doesn't really scream "fusion" to me at all and are, once again, items present on almost every sushi menu in Los Angeles. The staff, although extremely friendly, don't seem to know the difference between yellowtail and albacore. I would say that the different shochu drinks sets this place apart- by all means, go and try them. However, I'd be hard pressed to go to Zu Robata on my own as the prices are on the high side, particularly for drinks.

I thought Andrea and her group were a wonderful group of people, and it's always great to eat with others who are as enthusiastic about food as you are. I was on the fence about whether to actually post this review since I was part of this pre-arranged group and did get a special, very low price on the meal. However, I felt it was alright to be honest, especially when you're out with a bunch of food lovers.

Zu Robata is a beautiful restaurant, so I hope they'll start serving slightly more inventive food to go with their gorgeous decor and shochu selection.

And thanks, Andrea, for the invitation!

Zu Robata
12217 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA
(310) 571-1920


Marvin said...

Wow, how lucky you are to have taken part in that tasting. Have you ever tried to infuse your own shochu? It seems that that would make for a fun little experiment to create your own different flavor infusions.

foodette said...

Seems like we had pretty different reviews - I felt that the place was very "fusiony" and that there weren't as many traditional offerings as I would like. Maybe I need to order the prix fix option next time - it looked like you got a lot of sashimi and rolls with your dinner.

I also thought the prices were pretty low, for Sushi. I have definitely spent much more and gotten far less, but perhaps that just the curse of living on the Westside?

Anyway, it was great to read your review, so soon after I had been there. I always look forward to reading your blog.

Eddie Lin said...


I went to Zu Robata with Andrea and her foodie posse earlier this year and I feel the same way you do about the meal, the staff and the overall experience - although your tasting looked a lot better than mine.

Andrea and the super interesting group of people I sat with really made the night extra special however. I would love to dine with them again...maybe next time we'll be at the same din-din. Bye!

joseph said...

I been to the restaurant 5 times now and I can't wait to go back again. I always order the omakasi(chef selection)menu. Each time it's been a different and always an exciting selection of fresh seafood, very tasty meat and the delicious foil bag of the fresh steamed spinach just to mention a few. The first two courses always consist of the tastiest miso soup and the most inventive edamame you'll ever have. I'd be disappointed if those two items weren't served.

The wait staff now do know what they're serving in these wonderfully presented dishes. Chef Ricardo did some fine tuning to the menu which shows me he has read the reviews. Irene it's your turn to invite Andrea now. After all it been more than a year ago so spring.