By Dane Feldman
Photo by Dane Feldman.
Located on St. Mark’s Place on the Lower East Side of Manhattan just a block from the Astor Place stop on the 4 and 6 trains, Zen is a restaurant worth mentioning for a number of reasons. Like I’ve said in my review of Asuka, it isn’t hard to find sushi bars in Manhattan, but it isn’t terribly easy to find places that are both decent and cheap.
Zen does a 50 percent off happy hour from 10 p.m. to close every night on draft beer and Japanese cocktails. I haven’t been yet after 10 p.m., so I have not gotten the chance to check the place out during happy hour. That said, I actually had no idea Zen had a full bar (as it is listed on Yelp). I’ve had beer there before and have noticed that they serve wine and sake as well, but I’ve yet to see a cocktail list on the menu.
The truth of the matter here is that I really only go out of my way to dine at Zen because of the prices. The sushi is 50 percent off all the time, which has its ups and downs. In order to get half off, each person has to order at least $20 worth in order to get the half off deal so that each person is paying at least $10 for the meal. The rolls listed on the menu are similar in price to most other sushi places in the city, but it isn’t difficult to meet the half price deal.
With the prices aside, the sushi itself is mediocre. The special rolls aren’t terribly exciting in the sense that the ingredients and combinations aren’t revelatory. What I have ordered, however, has been consistently tasty. The fish always tastes fresh, the spicy rolls are significantly spicy (as I like them to be), and the avocado is never overripe. Regardless of the fact that the rolls are half price, they rival any other sushi restaurant I’ve been to in size. Regular rolls are 6 pieces and special rolls are at least 8 pieces.
The wait staff at Zen is friendly, but not overly attentive. For the most part I’ve had good experiences, but once when I went there, my waitress seemed visibly stressed. Perhaps she was new to the food service industry, but she wasn’t friendly and didn’t seem aware of her surroundings. She bumped into my table at least three times, spilling my water once, and I don’t think she even realized.
Other than that one experience, I can’t complain, but I also can’t praise the service. The restaurant itself is just okay. The chairs aren’t comfortable, but they aren’t distinctly uncomfortable. The tables are pretty close together in some places and too close in others, so I’d be wary of where you are seated. Water glasses are filled frequently enough, but I have seen the bottom of my glass once before.
This place is no Asuka, but if you’re looking for a cheap spot for decent sushi, look no further.