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Jan 15, 2003 11:58 AM

Zen 320 -- new sushi/Asian in Brookline Village

  • m

Lured in by two signs in the window -- one saying "Half-price sushi and sashimi through the end of January" and "Our sushi chef is really gooooooooooood!!!!" I checked out this just-opened place in Brookline Village. It's in the space that housed a once-good upscale Thai place whose name escapes me now, and then had a very short-lived Thai takeout in it. It's billed as a "thai-korean-japanese fusion" restaurant, which hardly inspires confidence, but the staff seems primarily Japanese. They've done a nice job with the space so far, though I get the feeling that they're waiting for customers to roll in before they do any expensive redecorations -- right now they're doing an artful job with some draped fabrics and nice lighting.

Okay, the chow! I shared a small selection of sushi -- spider roll, california roll, eel, salmon, inari, and striped bass nigiri; plus broiled yellowtail cheek. Fish and rice were both good, not up to Oishi standards, but very respectable. The salmon was quite good -- buttery texture.

The staff is super-friendly, but not terribly fluent in English (and they don't yet have those paper check-off menus that most sushi places use, so as I told the waitress what we wanted, she'd repeat it back to me -- thus I found how how close or far my pronunciation is to the actual Japanese). No liquor license currently -- didn't inquire about byo. On a tuesday night (and on most nights that I've walked by) it was nearly empty. Hopefully people will look past the office building exterior and realize that there's a restaurant within.

So, my assessment so far (based on limited information) is that it's a great deal at half-price (which only applies to sushi and sashimi, by the way), and I'd certainly consider it a neighborhood option at full price. I'll definitely be back while the half-price deal lasts, and I'd encourage other hounds to check it out and report back as well.

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  1. Good God, right under my nose, and I haven't even NOTICED!!! The former Sawasdee space, next to the ambulance garage?

    2 Replies
    1. re: galleygirl

      Yup, that's it. *Sawasdee*, thank you! I kept thinking Sri...racha? no, that's hot sauce. Sri...paphai?? no, that's NYC. Obviously my brain was slightly off-track.

      1. re: MichaelB

        Too much reading chowhound.... :)

    2. Well, based on MichealB's report, there were at least 2 hounds at Zen 320 last nite, (maybe more, we should have asked!)...I was already tucking into sashimi at the bar, when Barleywino walked in, and asked where everyone else was. Wave 1/2 price sushi in front of a hound.... :)

      Actually, looking at the menu, the most interesting things, to me, seemed to be the Korean dishes, including several kinds of Broiled or Grilled fish, and a bunch of stews that aren't on a lot of Korean restaurant menus in Boston; clam stew, mussel stew, spicy conch salad...I had actually ordered the Spicy Stew with Fish Roe and vegetables, but they were out of fish roe, so I gave in to the siren song of sushi...

      Actually, I gave in to the siren song of sashimi, impeccably fresh and fatty yellowtail and salmon..In a really big portion too, or so I thought.. The menu is a little confusing..Under "Sushi and Sashimi", I just ordered from the sushi selections, and asked for sashimi, figuring they'd add a buck or so, as is common...I ignored the menu section that said "Sashimi Combo", because I wanted to order a la carte..What I didn't know is that under the "Sashimi Combos",they only do 5 sashimis a la carte, 8 pieces of the same fish, for between $9.50 and $10.50... Not that that's a bad deal, but when you're expecting the salmon sashimi to be $3.75, like the salmon sushi, it's an unpleasant surprise...However, since I made the mistake during the "Grand Opening Special" , I still walked out for less than $20, so I'm quibbling here... Just thought I'd bring it up, because the menu is a little confusing.... (BTW, the sashimi dinners weigh in at average prices, $14.95- $25.95)

      There ARE a large selection of "designer" rolls, at average prices. I liked the Karate Maki, with eel tuna and avocado; no mayo! Hooray! The sushi chef (and part owner) is from California, and Barleywino noticed that they had some items he knew from the West Coast, like Dynamite...They also offered Tuna tataki, and Uni shooters.

      I got the last Hamachi Kama of the night. It came out underdone, and I sent it back, but the reheat was perfect; just the right texture to whittle with my chopsticks, and slow down my eating...They also offer Salmon Kama, which I've never seen, but it had a healthy amount of salmon still attached.

      The menu is pretty much all over the place, divided into sections that don't always follow reason [okay, not my reason ;) ], sometimes it's by menu category, sometimes by nationality. Some Thai specialties, because the chef is Thai, and because they thought it would be food people know...But a lot of the staff is Korean, and they seemed thrilled that anyone would know Korean food...I don't think they're pushing it that much, but I'll definitely go back to sample it; I'd be thrilled to find it in my nabe.

      The sushi selection isn't huge yet, but what I had was very fresh. My guess is that 1/2 price special is to get enough traffic going to enable bigger fish buys...

      Staff was sweet as could be, everything is still a little confused. Nice, calm, space...Worth seeing how it shakes down, and defintely worth the sushi special!

      BYOB for now; liquor license to come in 10 days.

      1 Reply
      1. re: galleygirl

        Went back again today; I am nothing if not thorough!

        I'm pleased to report that the menu confusion has cleared up a bit, with the addition of the paper check-off sushi menus that we've come to expect, with everything all spelled out..

        I did chat a little with the sushi chef today, and he says he has "Many more ideas for sushi in his head", so don't be afraid to ask for stuff you don't see listed...Turns out he's Korean, tho he worked in Japan for 16 years. They make their owm kimchi, too. I floated home on a visble cloud of garlic fumes, ;)

        Next, I return for Korean.....

      2. So, the raw fish craving just got to be too much to yesterday and the promise of the half price zushi had m nervously looking at the clock wondering when the last 3 hours of work would be over so I could head to Zen 320 (the char siew at Kong Kong Eatery for lunch did help though). Picked up a fellow hound and headed over to Brookline Village.

        We arrived at around 7:15 and the room was half full. Grabbed a table as the bar is pretty small and, more importantly when it’s 5 degrees out, right by the door. We promptly started pouring over the menu. As previously stated on the board, the choices are expansive if a bit unorganized. We started off with sashimi, ordering a salmon combo and a tuna combo. Now, before I continue, I have to say that service was s….l….o….w…. Not all that unexpected but I would not recommend Zen yet if you are in a hurry. 10 minuets after ordering we were brought tamari and the fish did not arrive for 15 minuets after that. Oh well… The fish arrived and I have to say that the salmon and white fish were absolutely some of the freshest I have had in Boston…. Oooops did I say white fish… well yea we were brought white fish instead of tuna. I would have said something but,
        a) I didn’t want to wait another 15 minuets and
        b) b) I love whitefish too.

        Besides it is quite understandable that there will be some kinks now. So we happily munched away. Next round was zushi time. Ordered Tomago, amaebi, oyster, avocado, a yellow tail maki, and a “Harvard” maki (tuna, whitefish, and seaweed). All arrived but the oyster. We dug in and everything was quite good. The rice had the right texture and the fish again was wonderful. The Harvard roll worked much better than most designer creations I have samples. About half way though the chowing our waitress approached and said that they did not have the oyster. No problem we had more on the way.

        We finished up the platter and waited for the Hamachi Kama. About 5 minuets later our waitress again appeared and, with an apology said that they did not have the Hamachi Kama either and asked if we would like to add anything else in it’s place. I handed the menu over and Nab picked an Alaskan (warning the menu does not indicate smoked salmon – the actual product will disagree). And I checked of the box for a scallop nigri.

        10 minuets later the Hamachi Kama appeared. After about 2 seconds of head scratching, we dug in to the dish of the night. Perfectly cooked and sauced, the fish was buttery sweet and flaked with out any effort. The crispy skin was the perfect counterpoint to the cheek meat. Delicious! Alone it was worth the price of admission.

        After another 15 –20 minuets the Alaska roll and smoked salmon nigri came out.. Ooops, did I say smoked salmon nigri… yea well…. I also happen to like smoked salmon a lot (and we had been there close to 2 hours) but the problem was that it was clearly a different batch of rice. It was still pretty warm and glutinous. So we left a bit for the table hermits.

        When we got the check we had to laugh though all of it came to $26 for two people. After we paid, the servers came over and apologized for the wait and other problems. They said that the half price thing had gotten out and the takeout business was a little more than they had been expecting or prepared for. We told them it was O.K. and quite understandable.

        I’ll defiantly be back before the end of the month. If you have the time and can deal with some mistakes you will get some great food at a good price. Would I pay twice as much with the service in it’s present state? No way. But for half price, I’m happy to keep testing it out… and testing it out…