Friday, March 22, 2013

Japanese Pub Favorites at Zen Box Izakaya

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In Minneapolis, Minnesota there are a number of Japanese restaurants from ones that serve expensive high quality sushi to the all you can eat buffets. But to get a real taste of Japan without having to break your wallet or catch the next flight to Narita Airport, you don’t have to look much further than just right down the street. On the corner of south Washington and Portland a few blocks away from Mall of America field, there is restaurant, or rather an Izakaya, that stands out above the crowd with their unique eats, atmosphere and culture.

At Zen Box Izakaya they’re serving up all the classic Japanese’s favorites like ramen and curry, but if you get the chance to stop in at this one-of-a-kind Japanese style pub, you have to try their traditional dishes that taste like they’re straight from the Land of the Rising Sun.

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Your virtual transportation to Japan starts as soon as you step through the door way. Servers and chefs reciting the tell-tale “irasshaimase” of a Japanese establishment welcoming you. With the choice of sushi bar or booth seating your experience can be tailored. As you are being seated you might notice the open kitchen behind the bar bustling with activity or the sake bottles hanging from the ceiling, doubling as light fixtures. With all the nuances of Izakaya flare it will have your eyes shifting from place to place long after you sit down.

Their long standing of serving authentic Japanese food in not only flavor and quality but also portion size, is something worth experiencing. Their user friendly menu is easy to read and divide by preparation style with ‘Must Try’ stamps for their popular dishes. And for those with diet restrictions it is also vegetarian noted and caters to gluten free customers as well.

Takoyaki by: Hailey Scholla
For starters, try an Osakan favorite Takoyaki. This must-try common bar and street food is sliced octopus encased in a ball of batter donned with Japanese mayo and tonkatsu sauce with flakes of dried bonito and aonori. Since they are cooked in a special circular pan and not deep fried they develop a crispy outside without all the grease and still have that creamy, rich center people love  with a perfectly cooked piece of octopus inside.

Silky Tofu Poké by: Hailey Scholla
If octopus isn’t your thing, for a vegetarian starter instead of going for the common edamame how about trying their Silky Tofu Poké? This dish has roots in Japan but is associated with Hawaii and is usually served as raw marinated tuna. But tofu poké is done with all the fixings just minus the tuna. Silky Tofu, also referred to as soft tofu or Japanese-style tofu, is extra fine in consistency and can fall apart easily (so make sure to handle with care). This is piled on crispy lettuce topped with onions, Kaiware, and a delicious soy sauce based house-made poké dressing. The freshness and brightness of this dish  makes for a great way to start a meal.

And you can’t think pub without the drinks and Zen Box has a wide array of choices of typical Izakaya favorites. Choose from their imported whisky or popular beer brands like Asahi, Sapporo and Kirin Ichiban to pair with your main dish.

Avocado Tempura by: Hailey Scholla
Among the entrees, tempura is synonymous with Japanese cuisine and can be found at any Asian establishment and at Zen Box their Avocado Tempura hits all the right notes. Creamy avocado deep fried in tempura batter to perfection and served up with their house-made spicy mayo is so good it gets the recommendation from the servers and a ‘must try’ stamp next to its name.

Saba no Shioyaki by: Hailey Scholla
For a very special dish, the only place you’re going to find Saba no Shioyaki in Minneapolis is at Zen Box. This salted and grilled mackerel is perfect for fish lovers or for those who want to try a  very traditional Japanese meal that is eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The saltiness of the outside creates a crust that prevents the meat from drying out during cooking resulting in a moist, succulent fish that is served with a side of ponzu sauce.

Ume Onigiri by: Hailey Scholla
Keeping in mind the Izakaya mentality of sharing food, the food is served in low dishes or bowls that makes it easy to pick from creating an atmosphere that engages conversation and closeness. The friendly waiting staff are genuinely happy to be serving and are quick to engage in friendly chit-chat or recommend a great dish.

Their motto of “Good Food, Good Drinks, and Good Company” was apparent all around through the ambiance, food, and staff. Unfortunately I left without being able to try everything I wanted on the menu but I’ll be keen to keep Zen Box in mind when I have a tough day at school and want to unwind or on a Saturday night on the town with friends. My experience at Zen Box Izakaya was nothing but pleasant and to sum it up it their own words, “It is not just a destination, but a culture of its own”.
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For a look behind the scenes and for special deals like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

Hours of Operation:
Lunch hours: M - F 11:30 a.m - 2:00 p.m
Dinner hours: M - Th 5:00 p.m - 9:00 p.m; F - Sat 5:00 p.m - 10:00 p.m

Don't forget Happy Hour!
Happy hour: Everyday 5:00 p.m - 6:00 p.m
Late night happy hour: M - Th 9:00 p.m - 10:00 p.m; F - Sat 10:00 p.m - Midnight

Address:
602 South Washington Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55415

Phone: 612-332-3936
**You can call for take out or dine in. They also deliver.**

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