47 Montauk Highway
Sunday through Thursday, 5-10 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 5-11 p.m.
First there was Bamboo, then Shiki, now Zokkon. The charming little building on Montauk Highway in East Hampton has been taken over by the folks at Suki Zuki in Water Mill. Not much has changed in the way of decor. The pillars gracing the entrance have been painted a carnelian red and the walls inside are a coppery hue with huge pieces of driftwood adorning the walls, kind of like free beach art.
If you are familiar with Suki Zuki, you are probably already a fan of their chicken teriyaki salad and spicy tuna sandwich, both of which you can find here. They are outstanding dishes and are so much more than their names imply.
The menu offers a great variety of sushi and sashimi with some items you don’t see often, such as sweet shrimp and bluefin toro. There is a good variety of rolls, with sensible names, not like some places that name their rolls after your plumber or yoga teacher, “Josh’s Gigantor” or “Veronica’s Vegetarian Roll.” There is also a specials menu that should be paid attention to, we enjoyed quite a few delicious items from it.
We began our meal with edamame, the aforementioned chicken teriyaki salad, tuna tartare, fried whole Long Island flounder, and bay scallop carpaccio. The edamame was as it should be, simply steamed to al dente, served piping hot with a sprinkle of salt. The chicken teriyaki salad is a delicious light combination of shredded romaine lettuce, crispy-crunchy Asian noodles, and bits of chicken in a rice vinegar mayo dressing. This $10 appetizer could be a meal.
The tuna tartare was a bore. A pretty bore, but a bore nonetheless. Attractive cubes of avocado were molded into a round mound with nice fresh chunks of tuna on top. But there wasn’t a single drop of ponzu or sesame oil or vinegar or anything to give it flavor. We weren’t sure if this was intentional or an oversight.
The fried flounder was dreadful. It was either way, way, overcooked or had been prepared earlier in the day and reheated. The texture of the fish was powdery. After poking around one side of the fish, we flipped it over in the hopes that the other side would be better. It was a teeny bit better, flaky, but still dry as a bone.
The bay scallop carpaccio, however, was absolutely delicious. The scallops (and plenty of them) were served in a circle atop a bed of shredded carrots and frisee, room temperature, and had a touch of heat, perhaps from a dash of shichimi togarashi, Japanese hot pepper flakes.
Next we had a few more specials, the chicken pocket, Pink Lady, negima kawayaki, and some rolls: fried oyster and Dakota roll. The chicken pocket was excellent and creative. It was a combination of diced chicken, bits of red and green peppers, jicama, and red onion spooned into endive leaves. The sauce was a bit sweet, like hoisin sauce, which tamed the slightly bitter crunchy endive.
The Pink Lady, we all agreed, was so delicious it should be put on the regular menu. A mixture of lobster, shrimp, crabmeat, asparagus, and avocado were bound with a bit of spicy mayonnaise and wrapped in delicate rice paper. The negima kawayaki, pieces of duck grilled on skewers, was pretty good, not terribly exciting. The fried oyster roll was excellent, fresh and retaining its crunch inside the rice. Dakota rolls are just about as white bread-mainstream as California rolls, but I love them and always order them when I see them on a menu. This version was excellent, just the right ratio of crabstick, avocado, onion, cucumber, and tempura flakes.
Service on the night of our visit was pretty good. Our waitress was as sweet as could be, but didn’t seem very well trained.
The prices at Zokkon are moderate. Appetizers are $3 to $16, kawayaki (grilled or broiled items) $3 to $10, soups and salads are $3 to $21, sushi and sashimi are $3 to $75, ($75 for a deluxe assortment for two), entrees are $19 to $25, desserts $8.
As desserts are never really a highlight or focus at most Japanese restaurants we decided to try just one, the omnipresent tempura fried banana. It was good, topped with whipped cream, a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the middle, and squiggles of chocolate sauce all over the plate.
Overall, our meal at Zokkon was very good, except for the few odd failures. We would recommend sticking with the deservedly well known Suki Zuki signature dishes and sushi and sashimi items.