Zen Box Izakaya(602 Washington Avenue South) is now open, and it was so worth the wait! From the moment you walk in and are greeted with a cheer of “Irrasaimase!” (“Welcome!”), until you leave to chants of “Arigato gozaimashita” (“Thank you very much for coming!") - it's a wonderful experience.
Many people know owners John and Lina Goh (below) from their popular lunch-only skyway location. Per Lina, "We are very blessed with a group of loyal fans whom embraced us from the beginning when we came from San Francisco to open Zen Box Japanese Eatery in the skyway. They are one of the reasons why we opened the second location, so that they can also share their love for good food with their friends and family."
She added, "We simply love to eat, and love to share with others our passion for Japanese comfort food. We believe that Food brings people together and good food comes from the heart."
We started off with Japanese beers exclusive to Zen Box - Asahi and Hitachino Ginger. Zen Box has created their own version of pub nibbles, Buckwheat Soba Sticks, lightly fried for a crispy texture and seasoned with sea salt.
Our server, Heidi, recommended four items for our first visit, starting with the Crab Croquettes with Spicy Mayo ("Big Brother" Kani Korokke on the menu) and Tuna Poke', a melt-in-your-mouth marinated raw tuna with Poke' dressing. Both were absolutely delish.
Next, the Zen Box Short Ribs. The flavor reminded me of a steak grilled to perfection - mmmmm.
Finally, the Chicken Kara-Age (Crispy Chicken) with Kamikaze Sauce. Words can't describe the incredible delicate crunch - I don't recall having anything like it. Again, the accompanying sauce was delicious.
In addition to creating a relaxing atmosphere and wonderful food, John and Lina have assembled a staff who share their passion. Beyond the lively greeting at the door (which immediately sets a "feel good" tone), the servers are attentive, helpful and genuinely excited to discuss the menu and make suggestions.
So now the dilemma we're faced with is what to have on our next visit. While there are many tasty items on the menu, we'll be tempted to order the same four dishes again - they were just soooo good.
Per Lina, most of the lunch and dinner menu items are available for take-out, with the exception of the Ramen dishes. They are currently working on a take-out menu.