As Much Zen As You Can Handle
Zen Shabu Shabu and Grill
10518 – 101 Street
I popped into Zen Japanese restaurant for lunch the other day to expand my quest for different international flavours in our neighbourhood. Zen is an all-you-can-eat place, but not a buffet. Everything is made fresh to order and you can order as much as you like (weekday lunch: $17.95, weekend/holiday lunch: $19.95, dinner: $27.95). There is a convenient picture menu that shows sashimi, sushi, maki, temaki cones, as well as grilled, fried, and other selections from the kitchen. Drinks are extra and range from simple Japanese tea (which I enjoyed) to a sake slush (which sounds quite interesting).
The place is tastefully decorated in Japanese style with several little booths where you take your shoes off. Service is provided by a kimono-wearing server who is happy to help work through the menu and offer suggestions. Since portion sizes are small (as they should be), a great opportunity to try a wide range of things presented itself. I enjoy maki and sushi as well as tempura and teriyaki, so I started with some of each. The maki and sushi were freshly prepared and the combination of textures – rice, seaweed, shellfish, yams, avocado, and mango – offered a tactile feast. My favourite tastes were masago (smelt roe), soft shell crab, Canadian roll (white/red/white presentation), and golden California roll which was a combination of tempura and maki, my two favourites. The spicy sauce was a bit much, but nothing that can’t be scraped away. The flavours were direct and solid, not complex or overly flavourful (except the wasabi, of course!).
In most all-you-can-eat places, quantity often takes precedence over quality. At Zen, the quality varied a bit, depending on what was ordered. The cooked food I tried included hot mussels (excellent), tempura yams (hot and tasty), gyoza pork dumpling (good texture but little flavour), green onion cake (doughy), and teryaki salmon (rather cool and mushy). All the sushi and maki I ate were excellent, fresh, delicious, and well-presented. The beauty of all-you-can-eat is that you can try things in small portions and decide for yourself what you like and what you don’t. The down side of all you can eat, is that it’s hard to take advantage of the interesting dessert offerings. Green tea ice cream tempura is one I’d like to try sometime.
Zen is worth a pop-in for lunch. Open daily, it’s quick, fresh, varied, tasty, and pleasant.
John lives in Boyle Street