At Zauo Japanese restaurant, Chelsea you can fish for your seafood.
Our recent trip to Tokyo exposed us to new dining experiences and although we discovered the Zauo seafood restaurant was closed in the hours we could dine we were pleasantly surprised to find they have another in the heart of where we live – Chelsea, New York.
Tucked beside the popular retro arcade gaming bar, Barcade, in Chelsea, Zauo is a Japanese seafood restaurant with one refreshing difference. Whereas some restaurants have a fish tank from which you can choose your ideal fish, at Zauo you play a more integral role – you get to catch them yourself.
Zauo is a restaurant that revolves around fishing
Entering Zauo, the decor reflects the fishing theme with a traditional ketch upturned as a creative chandelier of sorts. , an impressive sake cellar. The Friday night vibe is casual and sociable – a place to come with groups of friends with no fear of pretense. Periodically the volume goes up as groups gather to try their luck fishing for their protein. When a fish is landed, a staff member gives a triumphant thump on a traditional taiko drum that watches over the main pool and more often than not, it sparks cheers from the bar.
As we’re seated, we’re fascinated by the plates before us. What looks like a breath mint is quickly transformed into a napkin as the waitress pours steaming hot water from a teapot over the white disc. We’re presented with three menus, one devoted to today’s fresh fish options, a heavy wooden general menu and a drinks menu.
A feast of Japanese flavors
The drinks menu honors Japanese libations over local favorites with not a single scotch or American whiskey to be seen. Instead you can try the Nippon takes on these which have earned their place as authentic contenders. Beyond straight sake, you will also find an appealing selection of fruit and flavored sakes. Opting for a Sapporo, we scan the ala Carte menu, which boasts an assortment of raw and cooked starters, tempura based dishes, rice bowls and sushi.
A separate menu is devoted to the live seafood options. At Zauo you can choose from live abalone, lobster, crabs, bass, rainbow trout, salmon and flounder. The fish are in separate tanks, with the most popular – bass and rainbow trout on the ground floor. Upstairs are tanks of lobsters, mollusks and flounder, all of which look like they’d not even put up the slightest fight – with the flounder all congregating together on the bottom like a giant khaki mat.
Licensed to Fish
Before we can fish, we have to be licensed. The process is simple – you have to sign an indemnity form. After that you’re issued with a lanyard with your license and a raincoat so you don’t get covered in water as your fish flaps around. The rods are equally basic – a thin bamboo shaft with a four foot line and a tiny hook on the end. One of the wait staff threads a faux worm onto the hook and it’s time to fish!
With over one hundred hungry rainbow trout in the tank, there’s no risk of leaving with “the one that got away” tales. Instead the name of the game is trying to ensure that the fish hankering for your bait is one that’s within your budget. There are three sizes and prices, with the large trout the hungriest and hardest to avoid catching. For the next few minutes it’s about lift the line out before it’s snagged by a hungry large or small trout as we’re after a hearty mid-size minnow. To make it more challenging, there’s a “no backsy, no catch and release” policy. Finally after frustrating most of the alpha males in the tank (and probably the patient wait staff, watching bemused), we land our ideal rainbow trout. The waiter secures it in a net and after a quick victory photo, it’s whisked out the back.
As Fresh as it Gets
While our catch is ably grilled (you can choose to have it fried, grilled or tempura-style) our starters arrive. We have chosen fish croquettes – a deep fried courgette of And a serve of shishito peppers, generously coated with bonito flakes. The croquettes have a crispy crunch as we slice into the creamy mash interior and the peppers are the perfect accompaniment for the easy-drinking Sapporo.
Our rainbow trout arrives filleted and with minimal fanfare (no taiko drums this time). There’s a light salting and it’s delicious, but beware as the filleting is less than perfect and most of the time is spent extracting tiny bones awkwardly from our mouths and trying to daintily spit them onto our napkins. There is also an absence of the traditional staple, rice which was supposed to come with the fish.
Zauo is definitely a dining experience and the opportunity to catch your dinner adds an element of play you don’t normally get. The service was cordial and the wait staff was attentive, but outside of the core novelty, Zauo fails to rise above any other average seafood restaurant.
Zauo Japanese Seafood Restaurant is located at 152 W 24th St, New York, NY 10011 in Chelsea, right next to Barcade.
Book at the Zauo website . Zauo is open daily from 5PM to 10:30PM.Follow & Connect with us