And now for something a little different. Rather than cook last night, we decided to go to what has become our favorite restaurant in the Twin Cities, Zen Box Izakaya (602 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis). For those of you who haven’t been there, I can only offer this – what are you waiting for? I mean, seriously. Maybe you won’t like it as much as we do, but you should go there and try it out. Seriously. Right. Now.
Anyway, the menu consists mainly of small plates designed for sharing, and on a given night, we go through about three small plates per person. While this obviously wasn’t the first time we had been – this was visit number six or seven I believe – this will obviously mark the first, but not the last, time Zen Box Izakaya will be featured on our blog.
We decided to take a break from cooking because of a couple of weekend specials: Frog Leg Kara-Age (battered and deep fried frog legs served with Zen Box’s famous kamikaze sauce) and Nikujaga (what I lovingly refer to as “Pot Roast on Crack”). The Frog Leg Kara-Age was phenomenal. The meat was tender and juicy, with just the perfect little hint that you weren’t eating chicken. It worked really well with the kamikaze sauce and a little lemon juice. While I’m sure it might be tough to make this a regular menu item, I’ll be ordering it again the next time it’s on the menu.
The Nikujaga, which is tender beef in a dark, savory broth with potatoes and crisp slices of garlic cloves, was gone in a matter of seconds. If I hear the term “Japanese comfort food,” this is what I immediately think of. The sauce is so good that I considered a side of white rice to pour it over after all the other ingredients were gone. While I preferred the Frog Leg Kara-Age, H preferred the Nikujaga. However, both were excellent choices.
We followed those two plates with Spicy Kimchi Ramen, Avocado Tempura, and a new dish we were lucky enough to sample that featured squid and kimchi. The Spicy Kimchi Ramen became an instant favorite of mine. I really enjoy kimchi and this dish had really well crafted noodles, juicy pork belly, and a wonderful sweat-inducing amount of heat. The only downside of the ramen was that for $10.50, you get so much that I didn’t have enough room to eat more. Not a bad problem to have.
The avocado tempura is a fantastic blend of soft, earthy avocado and light, crispy tempura batter fried to perfection. The spicy mayo goes great here, and we’ve found it actually goes great with pretty much anything else on the menu. As for the squid and kimchi dish, I can only say that I hope it makes it onto the regular menu. The squid was not chewy or tough and I personally really liked how it took on the wonderful fermented flavor of the kimchi.
Overall, it was one of the best meals that we’ve had at Zen Box Izakaya, which is saying something since every meal we’ve had there has been amazing. We’ll be back again soon, and look forward to sharing more of their awesome food with you.
Lastly, we’ve gotten to know John and Lina (husband and wife, and owners) a little bit over the last few years between eating at their skyway location for lunch and now their stand-alone restaurant, and we wish them lots of success. They work very hard and it shows in the food, staff, atmosphere, and service. The personal touch they provide, like stopping by to chat with us if they have time, isn’t an influence on why we endorse them and their restaurants, but it’s that nice extra step that makes the whole experience rank at the top of our list.
So go visit them, and happy fooding.