Fish­ing for your food in seafood restau­rant


Muscat Daily - - FRONT PAGE - Kyle Stock

Your odds of catch­ing a big striped bass for din­ner in New York City are not es­pe­cially high. A pier in Brook­lyn, close to the Wil­liams­burg J Crew, prob­a­bly of­fers the best chance. Your next step is to find some­one to clean and cook it for you.

Or you can just book a ta­ble at Zauo. Start­ing on Oc­to­ber 15, din­ers will be able to walk into the Chelsea restau­rant and dip a line into a gi­ant tank full of frisky striped bass - plus salmon, fluke, trout and other fish. It’s a farm-to-ta­ble the­sis served with a ré­moulade of Ja­pan-style kitsch. It’s din­ing theatre at the ex­treme, an out­size gim­mick in a town built on them. It’s also quite en­ter­tain­ing.

On a Mon­day morn­ing, dozens of fish zom­bied past my salmon-scrap-gob­bed hook, like so many Mid­town com­muters. A 3lb striped bass hur­ried by on the right, a 14” rain­bow trout lazily de­toured to the left, and a steel­head the size of my arm lum­bered un­der­neath. None of them made eye con­tact - New York­ers through and through.

Af­ter two min­utes, the mark came along. A fresh-faced trout paused for a beat; won­dered, What’s this?; and voilà: Brunch was served.

There’s a giddy joy in catch­ing a fish, and it doesn’t abate much based on the set­ting. The in­con­gruity of feel­ing the fish’s elec­tric dance on a line at Zauo, two steps from a bar stocked with high-end sake, is part of the fun.

And it’s sup­posed to be fun. This is not a hushed tem­ple of sushi where guests line up like con­gre­gants. The staff goes out of its way to keep the at­mo­sphere bright (in case one pon­ders too deeply what’s about to be­fall the en­trees lazily finning by). When a fish is hooked, a con­certed cheer rings out from the three or four ‘fish at­ten­dants’ di­rect­ing traf­fic around the tank. As it thrashes into the net, some­one bangs a big bass drum. Just as quickly, the crit­ter is whisked to the back of the house, where the kitchen staff makes sure it will never swim again.

Some­how, it’s not as ridicu­lous as it sounds. Fish tanks and gi­ant drums aside, the space is sub­dued. Sure, the en­tire sec­ond floor is de­signed as a ‘boat’, with the keel run­ning the length of the bar down­stairs, but it comes off as spar­tan. Blond wood gives way to brick and the oc­ca­sional buoy in a sushi-counter vibe.

“It’s all very sim­ply, very sys­tem­atic,” says spokes­woman Ayako Kaneyoshi. “Af­ter all, it is a chain restau­rant.”

In­deed, Zauo’s own­ers run 13 sib­ling lo­ca­tions in south­ern Ja­pan that are es­pe­cially pop­u­lar with in­ter­na­tional tourists. Restau­rants in that area - and in Chi­na­towns around the world - have tanks of seafood where you can see your din­ner swim­ming around. Zauo is ar­guably the first to let cus­tomers do the catch­ing.

The Man­hat­tan lo­ca­tion, the fam­ily’s first out­side Ja­pan, re­quired an en­tirely new piscine sup­ply chain. Aside from the Maine lob­sters, all the in­ven­tory is trucked in from farms: Salmon from New York and striped bass from North­ern Carolina. My rain­bow trout grew up in Penn­syl­va­nia. The trout, salmon and striped bass are kept to­gether in two dif­fer­ent tanks. Up­stairs, 50 floun­der doze in a sep­a­rate tank like a smat­ter­ing of sleepy-eyed wel­come mats, with fluke, lob­ster, rock­fish and abalone as friends. The floun­der are the most ex­otic fare, hav­ing flown in from Ja­pan.

There are 134 seats, and din­ers will fish in waves of 15 to 20 at a time. Each per­son pays, in to­tal, for what­ever grabs the hook, with prices rang­ing from US$45 for a trout or bass to US$110 for one of the mas­sive salmon (which, con­sid­er­ing the size, may be one of the city’s best seafood deals). Those who elect to have a fish caught for them will pay slightly more (US$55 for the trout, US$125 for the salmon) - but to get ex­actly what you want, there are nets avail­able.

Once the fish is safely in the kitchen, din­ers choose from a few sim­ple prepa­ra­tions: Sashimi, grilled, fried in tem­pura, or sim­mered in soy sauce and mirin. All ar­rive whole, with the head and bones, un­less you ask oth­er­wise. Fluke or floun­der bone chips are ex­tra. For those who don’t dab­ble in in­door fish­ing, there’s a sashimi-heavy a la carte menu

A Zauo em­ployee demon­strates a catch

(Bloomberg pho­tos)

The best spec­ta­tor seats are on the sec­ond floor

The sec­ond-floor din­ing room is de­signed to re­sem­ble a boat

When a cus­tomer catches a fish, the staff beats a drum

Striped bass sashimi made from just-caught fish

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