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New Jersey Japanese

Zen Japanese Restaurant, Marlboro


Restaurants & Bars 19

Zen Japanese Restaurant, Marlboro

MarlboroMan | Aug 31, 2008 02:28 PM

This place had their Grand Opening last Saturday night.. I decided to stop in for lunch this past Wednesday. The restaurant is located in the Marlboro Diamond strip mall (there's a "Saladworks" in there) on Rt. 9 South, just past the Marlboro Diner.

Two comments before I move on to the details:

1. Replace the Z with an M.. and the N with an H.. and that's pretty much how I feel about this place.

2. Sometimes the anticipation is more exciting than the experience itself. Such was the case here.

I was psyched when I saw there was to be a Japanese restaurant opening, very close to my home. Other than Zen, there's also Tokyo Sushi on Rt. 9 North (way overpriced and not that great), and Empire Szechuan (decent Chinese food, but the sushi is just okay).

So, I stopped in at a little past 2 pm (they close from 3 to 5 pm on weekdays). Nicely decorated in subdued brown hues, I guess. I'm not really one for atmosphere. If it's clean and the food's good, that's good enough for me.

There was a bizarre structure on the ceiling that looked like the framework for a submarine.. it's supposed to be a light, but .. something like, the interior designer and the electrician had an argument, so it's in limbo right now.

So, I'm alone, and I ask to sit at the sushi bar. First thing I notice, are the sushi chefs sitting off to the side (no one behind the sushi bar) with a business man of some sort. I sit at the bar.. on a stool. I don't like stools. I'm tall, but I like my feet on the floor when I'm sitting, especially when I'm eating. That was not to be the case here. Also, I was towering over the sushi bar. Very uncomfortable.

Next, I start looking through the vast menu. Hot and cold appetizers, soups, salads (LOTS of salads.. about 13 or 14!), entrees, and 3 pages of rolls (makis).. but something seems to be missing.. what is it? Oh yeah.. where the heck are the nigiris? I go through the menu again.. nope. I call over the waitress and ask her. She doesn't know and asks the sushi chef, who gets up, comes behind the bar, and tells me there is no menu for that yet.. they forgot to print it.. but if I want to know the price of anything, just ask, and he'll tell me. Well, that's just awkward. I don't want to ask a million questions about.. how much is this, how much is that.. nor do I just want to "assume" I won't be overcharged.

So he walks back to the table, and apologizes to the person he was with for the interruption.

Gee, sorry I was inconveniencing you by coming in for lunch while you're trying to have a business meeting. At this point I almost walked out. In retrospect, I should have.

I decided to order from the lunch menu, anyway. The only option was getting a bento box. Oh well.. I decide to order a sushi and sashimi bento box. ($15) I also ask for a glass of water, and a cup of green tea.

Then I start looking at the sushi in the refrigerated case... everything looks fairly ordinary until I look closer and realize.. ALL the fish is precut! The tuna, the salmon, the hamachi, the eel, EVERYTHING is precut into little rectangular pieces. What kind of reputable sushi bar pre-slices it's fish? It was bizarre. I've been in good sushi bars that got really busy (which this place wasn't), and they never cut their fish in advance.

At this point I'm just hoping for the best. First comes my miso soup, included with the meal. Okay, decent, nothing to write home about. Then comes my green tea... leaves in a strainer sitting in a cup. I think to myself "I bet I'm getting charged for this". I've never gotten charged for tea at a sushi bar. Well, until now. That cup of BITTER tea cost me $3.00.

I watched the sushi chef prepare my meal. He didn't seem very friendly, so I decided not to ask questions or try to interact... although I was dying to know why all the fish was precut. The "sashimi" was simply a rectangle of fish cut in half. Whee.

So, I get the bento box. A salad, with that ubiquitous gloppy orange dressing on top. Okay. Two veggie gyozas.. pretty tasty for what they were. An assortment of vegetable tempura. Light, crispy, not overly greasy. The onion ring was pretty good. Some of the vegetables I couldn't identify, but I ate them anyway. A ball of white rice. Tempura dipping sauce on the side. And an assortment of sushi and sashimi. The usual stuff. Shrimp, tuna, salmon, whitefish. One piece of hamachi (tough), and one piece of "white tuna".. I think. And of course, 4 diminutive pieces of California roll. That's the problem with ordering a standard sushi/sashimi lunch.. I get stuff I normally wouldn't order on my own (Except for the hamachi). To their credit, the salmon was buttery and smooth. That was probably the highlight. The rice on which the fish was lying was tiny. Maybe about the size of a 2x3 Lego brick. Likewise, the pieces of fish were also small.

The meal filled me up. I was thinking of trying a Spicy Tuna roll, but I didn't want to inconvenience the sushi chef again, so I used my 15% coupon (which basically covered the cost of the tea) and asked for a takeout menu... just to see if they had some.. which of course they didn't. I was going to ask if they had a website, but decided I didn't really care one way or the other, at that point.

I MIGHT consider going back in a couple of months.. once they have the nigiri menu printed up. I know better than to order tea.. and I'll look to see if they still precut their fish.. in which case, I won't be staying.

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