Walter Mencken 1 p.m., May 1
I had spent the morning outside with friends in some windy conditions. I was tired and chilled and I wanted hot soup; ramen, to be exact. Zensei Sushi, the North Park sushi bar that's been in operation since 2005, seemed liked the best bet for a warm bowl of soup on a blustery day.
I have to say, I really liked the way Zensei was laid out on the inside. It's virtually identical to most other sushi bars, with counter seating on one side and a series of tables along the other. I kept getting a sense of industrial Modernism, however, and the chairs at the tables looked like a cross between Bauhaus design and something you might see in a hair salon. It didn't have the faux-Japanese aesthetic that is so common in entry-level sushi spots, and that was somehow very refreshing to me.
I lucked out. There was ramen on the menu, although only one option and at the very bottom of a special menu insert. I ordered a bowl of vegetable ramen as well as a few choice pieces of sushi. When the soup arrived, the first thing I noticed was that the bowl had been filled to the brim with noodles and boiled vegetables, most of which were cabbage and broccoli.
The soup proved to be a pretty big disappointment. It tasted strongly of boiled vegetables, not the heady, salty, pork broth that I was hoping for to warm my bones. The flavor was more like a half-hearted veggie stock. At least there was plenty of it.
The nigiri that I ordered was also a letdown. The quality of fish was serviceable, far from unpleasant, but the preparation was lackluster. Salmon belly had been trimmed into an unattractive shape as opposed to the geometric marvel that properly prepared sushi can be. Blue crab sushi promised a lot, but the little flakes of crab fell off of the sushi. It would have been better to have used the shreds of crab inside a roll and reserved larger pieces for nigiri, I suppose. The rice in both cases hadn't been formed into the perfect little cake that I so desire in a piece of sushi.
Unfortunately, I lost my notes with the exact prices for all the items. Suffice to say that Zensei is well within the neighborhood of "average" and that I could have gotten a better meal for the same money somewhere else.
3396 30th Street