Adam (aka guest blogger dude) and I were milling around the Westside a few days ago looking for a place to eat lunch at. Having spent the previous day gut busting around, I had a hankering for some sushi. A cheerful banter arose, so back and forth we went until Adam suggested Zen on Ten, an Asian bistro and sushi bar located in the still fresh Ten Side apartment complex.
Having only seen the place in passing, and with no real concrete idea of what to expect, we both settled in on the assumption that Zen on Ten would fill the role of the fast dining sushi option; in other words, what Moe’s is to the burrito, we THOUGHT Zen would be to sushi. Turns out, we were pleasantly wrong.
The somewhat chain-like sign of Zen gives way to a nicer than anticipated interior. A ten-seat bar houses the sushi station, a bevy of adult beverages, and some televisions to distract you. The stone top, decorative lights, and high quality chairs help give the area a comfortable, yet clean vibe. The rest of the space falls in line nicely. Large windows, high ceilings, lightly colored walls, and even a few mirrors keep the space open. Meanwhile, the tables, chairs, and accent pieces utilize that dark color scheme that seems omnipresent in dining arenas around the city. Touched off with some Asian themed artwork, the place hints at its culinary focus; however, with a few minor adjustments, you could easily be in any one of a number of places.
We were greeted by a pleasant and smiling gentleman who promptly showed us to our seats. This type of warm and competent attention extended into and throughout our meal. Though the the space was sparsely populated, I’ve had several meals in near empty restaurants where the service was pathetic. Thus, you can’t really rave about the service nor can you complain about something absent of fault.
Unlike several other multi-cultural Asian restaurants in Atlanta, Zen on Ten does have a full selection of more than one ethnic offering. In this case, Thai and Japanese cuisine are the options.
As a sushi bar, It’s not to be considered in the same ilk as say Tomo, Sushi House Hayakawa, or Taka, but for what it is, Zen performed quite well. The ingredients were fresh, the fish was of sufficient quality, and the flavors of the kitchen-prepared items were up to the high-casual standards of the experience.
Though we didn’t spend much time sampling from the Thai portion of the menu, I did take a minute or two to check out the available options. All the standards were there as well as some mainstream dishes that don’t show up on many menus. There were a half-dozen “Pad” options, several curries, some salads, soups, and a good number of appetizers.
Moving through the Japanese portion of the menu, it was heavy on the sushi, and lite on the soups, and salads. There was also an appetizer section that included things like gyoza, a couple of tempuras, and a couple of other nice twist and turns.
One of those twists was the Hamachi Serrano. The dish was a nicely presented rotunda of slice hamachi (aka yellowtail) topped with some carrot slivers and sliced Serrano chilies. The marinade was a yuzu-soy with a hint of olive oil and some parsley puree (though I didn’t detect that latter). The yuzu (which is a citrus fruit) was utilized in such a way that a taste of the sauce reminded me of a sip of wine. That is to say, you could definitely pick up on the sweetness, but it did not overpower. The hint of oil gave the dish a nice touch of “fat” while the thinly sliced bits of carrot and the sliced Mexican chilies made this a pleasant start to our meal. Though Adam shamefully cast aside a couple of the peppers, I scooped them up and doubled my pleasure. Under a more discerning examination, I might have been a little less reluctant to enjoy the dish. Being what it was, I have no problems recommending the hamachi based on that experience and will … gasp … go so far to say that I liked it. Removing the chilies will successfully take the fire out of a bite, so this would be a good option for a yin/yang date.
Adam hit up the daily specials for his lunch, opting for a bentō box that came in at $10. A definitive value, the shōkadō bentō included a serving of pad kra prao, a bit of vegetable tempura, a salad, and a salmon skin roll. To really help expand the waistline, there was a cup of Miso soup as well. Though I didn’t sample the little salad, the miso, or the tempura, Adam seemed pleased with them individually. He definitely has the propensity to be as tough to please as I can be, so that should make you feel all warm and fuzzy. Meanwhile, I found his kra prao (which is a basil based sauce) to have strong characteristics of a freshly prepared Thai dish. The A, having spent a good bit of time in Thailand, enjoyed it as well. The sliced vegetables were nice and “al dente” while the basil punched through on every bite. Ultimately sweet, and light on broth, I was quite pleased with my drive by sampling. However, both Adam and I agreed that the chicken was dried out.
The salmon skin seemed like a smart execution. Though I was buzzing about a little too much for me to dissect the bites with the proper amount of attention, I quite happily snagged half of them out of the box. The roll seemed to combine a touch of crunch with a small line of something pickled. Again, I wasn’t in super-radar / food analyst mode, so it may not have been pickled.
Though the box was a hell of a deal, I just wanted to see what else the place had to offer. After a little bit of deliberation, I settled in on the “special roll” most reminiscent of an “authentic” roll. That choice was a hakozushi preparation that included tuna, salmon, scallions, and both red and black tobiko. Meanwhile, as sort of a challenge to Zen, I complimented the roll with an order of uni sashimi. Uni, being sea urchin, is a staple of my sushi diet and is not something I expect to eat at too many places.
First up for me was a surprising presentation of the aforementioned Uni. A large portion showed up topped with a thumb sized dollop of wasabi and held up in one of those oversized shot glasses. Unlike the failed execution of the martini dishes at Livingston, the shot glass was not the least bit prohibitive as a vessel. Great uni will often leave me speechless. Meanwhile, good uni should be lite, slightly sweet, and somewhat briny. Though not great, this uni was well worth the order. And to be a little presumptuous with regards to consistency, it will be a staple of any future meal I have at Zen. It was time to move on.
Hakozushi is that box pressed roll that takes on a rectangular shape. Hailing from Osaka, it is my favorite execution of “rolled” sushi. Coming in at $12, this was a pleasing to the palate experience where the tuna and salmon were balanced on the rice by the crunchiness of the tobiko, the mildness of the scallions, and the creaminess from the stylized mayonnaise that was maybe just a smidge overused. For a roll at the high-end of Zen’s price point, I enjoyed this non-traditional take on a very traditional alternative.
When all was said and done, the waiter quickly reported with an already split check … nicely played my good man! It is worth mentioning that he stuck the entire app ($10) on my side of the table … so bah humbug. Still, that’s not a big deal as he’s got to put it somewhere and I’m not going to demand that the POS system have item splitting capabilities. That actually leads to another point … this place can be cheep, but can also be expensive. Adam’s $10 lunch was a hell of a deal. Mine came in at $36 for an order that could have easily fed one person. Take that in whatever direction you see fit.
In the world of Thai food, the price point and menu listings remind me of Tamarind Seed and Spoon. However, I have no real way of commenting any further on that comparison except to say that the initial meal made the Thai options exploration worthy. In the world of sushi, this place is not nearly as cliché as RA Sushi, and much nicer than say Nickiemoto’s or Ru San’s (barf). Though it doesn’t look like it’s likely to draw the funky fresh crowd that shows up at RA, one meal in and the food here is significantly better than any of those three places (and a good number of others).
I wouldn’t go to Zen for culinary exploration or bliss, but as a mix-it-up option – they seem to be ideal. If this single visit was any indication of how things are over the long haul, Zen should be one of those places that people go to when they are looking for some reliable food and a nice place to relax.
Oh yeah, I’m pretty sure a non-national typed up the menu – there were a number of phonetic faux pas.