Oysters. I've seen my favorite Kumamotos go for $2.50 or more around town. Absinthe, for example, has a price tag of $3 per slurp. At Zuni it's a very very reasonable $2 for that clean sea-sweetness that I find hard to pass. In fact oyster prices at Zuni are actually quite good (maybe it was lunch -- are the prices higher during dinner?) -- most varieties go for around $1.70-1.80, prices that puts many places with lesser but pricier raw bars to shame.
At Zuni, the Hog Island Flats came out to $2.50 each for a firm crunch, a light brininess and a long metallic finish. The Miyagis were in the under $2 category, heavier on the initial brine but finishing with a light pitch of sweetness.
And a vast selection. I counted 11 varieties of oysters that were available today,and 2 or 3 kinds of clams as well.
So the oysters at Zuni get a serious thumbs up.
After 6 oysters, lunch continued with Zuni's exemplary caesar: the luxuriant dressing gets right to the heart of the matter: the romaines that hold up their end of the bargain with clean flavors, crispness and crunchiness. The entire affair is covered with a forest of shaved parmesan -- wonderful tendrils of flavor. Only minus, it's pricey at $9. Next time I'm going to ask for anchovies.
Then a barley soup with bits of kale and carrots. This broth has body -- rich swirls of olive oil and soft starches from the barley. Good flavor too. Served steaming but not scalding. Not cheap at $7.50, but not too outrageous.
Desserts didn't look too appealing for the weather -- lots of things with ice creams and sorbets. I wanted something warm to weather the rain. "Do you have hot chocolate?" The waitress replies yes with a broad smile. And it's a light frothy hot chocolate with all the comforts and goodness of coco.
Service was excellent -- polite, welcoming and friendly. But no pretention or airs. Some might complain about the fact the courses overlapped, salad came before I was done with oysters etc... but it's really not a big deal in my book and I have a bad habit of not feeling rushed anyway.
So all in all a good but expensive lunch. It came to $42 (tax and generous tip, no wine).
To add my 2 cents to the Zuni debates of the past, I would say that it was certainly not cheap (except the oysters which were quite a good deal). But factoring in the comfortable dining room (I'd love to sit at that table just after the arch that faces the open kitchen) and the unobstrusive and well oiled service, I'd say that Zuni isn't overpriced, at least not for lunch. Perhaps dinner is a different animal.