Time Out says
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In a city full of eateries striving to come across as authentically New York, it takes a Japanese-inspired London import to create a space that feels truly international. With locations in far-flung Dubai, Bangkok and Miami, Zuma’s globe-trotting influences play out in both appearance and menu at this New York outpost, which opened in 2015.
The brainchild of German-born chef Rainer Becker, the 100-seat, iron-and-leather–clad concept centers on the informal Japanese style of izakaya dining, which typically involves shareable small plates along with a selection of sake. And while the markings of an upscale izakaya abound—there’s a sushi counter, 80-bottle sake bar and robata grill—, informal would also be the best way to characterize the restaurant’s treatment of its principal cuisine.
Offered a la carte or in a choice of chef’s omakase ($58 classic, $98 signature, $158 premium), the menu comprises such worldly offerings as prawn-and-cod dumplings, pork belly with yuzu mustard miso and an oven-roasted, corn-fed chicken roasted on cedar wood. On a recent night, the mid-range signature omakase opened with a steamed baby spinach lathered in a pleasantly sweet, almost peanut-buttery sesame dressing, before delving into a mixed parade of raw and robata offerings—of these, the standout was a simple yet instantly addictive fried softshell crab dipped in mizuna (Japanese mustard) and wasabi mayo, while crowd-pleasing seabass sashimi (yuzu, truffle salmon roe) proved likewise a success.
Rounds of assorted sushi and sashimi did not fare quite as well: a serrano-whispered spicy yellowtail roll with avocado overpowered its fish and a dry tuna-salmon tartar was left untouched, having arrived flavorless and mushy. These missteps were thankfully forgotten upon the arrival of hot dishes, including a tempura “popcorn” that wrapped sweet kernels in a light batter, plump chunks of roasted lobster in a shiso-ponzu butter and a spicy beef tenderloin slicked with a delightful yet subtle blend of sesame, red chili and sweet soy.
Set to the beat of a bass-driven playlist that flipped between electronic and top 40’s, the experience is easily compared to those of such similar “upscale Japanese fusion” players in NYC. And while Zuma does tout a slight edge in the kitchen, its the understated decor and relaxed atmosphere that kicks it one notch above its competitors: absent are the gaudy blue lights of Hakkasan and the excessive wall hangings of Nobu—here, elevators are encased in glass, granite slabs panel the space and exposed wood beams provide structure for the high ceilings. It’s distinctly modern, yet warmly rustic, a testament to Zuma’s ability to appease the sensibilities of its far-reaching global audience, even if that means playing it safe.
261 Madison Ave
|Cross street:||between 38th and 39th Sts|
|Transport:||Subway: 42nd St S, 4, 5, 6, 7 to 42nd St–Grand Central|
|Price:||Average main course: $31|
|Opening hours:||Mon-Fri 11:45am–3pm, 5:30pm–11:30opm; Sat 5:30pm-11:30pm; Sun: 5:30pm-10:30pm|
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