We had heard from an acquaintance that RO-ZU, a new Japanese arrival to the BYOB scene at 7th & Bainbridge, was serving up some excellent product. That recommendation, combined with some positive press convinced us to try the omakase, fixed-price meal where Chef Todd Dae Kulper serves up a series of dishes based on your interests - all you have to do is select the price-point that you'd like to pay per-person, have a seat at the bar, sit back & enjoy.
We went on a Saturday with some last minute reservations being made after I'd read that you should call ahead for the omakase. RO-ZU was busy but not packed when we arrived at 9PM to take our place at the bar.
We selected a modest $50 omakase, but you could go to $65 or splash out with the lux $80 - I think that's where the really wild stuff starts to come into play and the chef let us know that if we called a few days ahead to reserve the $80 tasting, they would have some really stunning product ready for your dinner. Chef Todd also mentioned that the omakase never repeats if he can help it and every time you come back, he'll take you a little further into his repertoire.
Chef Todd first performed a quick interview to find out our likes and dislikes and then set to work deftly shucking two tiny oysters...Kumamoto I believe. Wrapped in a thin blanket of big-eye tuna, topped with a micro-dice of jalapeño and resting in a small dribble of a tangy sauce (ponzu?), the amuse was a great palette opener, with the fresh oyster's hint of salinity livening up the tuna.
Next up was a dish of Scottish salmon, dressed with tomato & sea salt and served with a citrus-splashed salad of tomato & red onion. The salmon was succulent...you can see the banana leaf garnish showing through the translucent flesh. This was Elizabeth's favorite dish, mostly due to the quality of the salmon and the clean flavors of the tomato.
Here we have what I call the 'Hot Tuna' dish, a serving of yellowfin tuna topped with a hot pepper ring and garnished with fried garlic & shallot. Chef Todd fired up the blowtorch to superheat a bowl of oil that was then drizzled over the fish, releasing the heat locked in those pepper rings and lightly searing the fish. Combined with the rich sesame oil and fried garlic & shallot crisps, the heat from the pepper was pleasant and not overpowering, with the tuna itself being a good texture and quality.
The only thing THIS dish was missing was a slice of bread to sop-up the sauce...wait, wrong cuisine! The big-eye tuna was served with a daikon slaw and a dice of sweet onions. The sauce was king on this dish, a butter & yuzu combination that had been bubbling away on the one tiny burner behind the bar. It amped up the play of the deep flavors from the last dish, building a great progression from light, clean flavors to the deep and complex.
We've reached the end of the progression here with grilled eel & asparagus, served over a sweet sauce. This was one of the dishes that I had been looking forward to after reading the review from the Inquirer - the article had made mention of how the sauces were all house-made in small batches with one in particular being made from roasted eel bones. The switch from cool fish & warm sauce to cool sauce & warm fish was a clever switch-up as well...the pleasant smell of the eel searing under the burner of a tiny oven behind the counter replaced the smell of butter & ponzu hovering around the bar.
We finished the omakase over a warm bowl of smoky Shiitake soup. I was taken back by the flavor and asked if there was a type of tea that gave it such a strong 'campfire' flavor. The punch of smokiness came from a type of cured fish flake that is heavily smoked and then shaved. It sounded like a type of bonito but this was the strongest I had ever sampled...not so strong that it was unpleasant though.
I'd definitely recommend making your reservations for the bar if, like us, you're new to the cuisine and are interested in the preparation & thought behind these cooking with these ingredients, as the chefs were very friendly and worked the meal around your interests. Being a new business I hope that they do well...they do a lunch service too that sounds good and may yield up some better pictures...my camera really isn't handling the night-dining too well these days.