What to Eat at Zama, Opening December 19

We had a chance to stop by Zama, the Japanese restaurant opening this Saturday in Rittenhouse, and we can confirm that the ghost of former tenant Loie has been exorcised from 128 S. 19th Street. While the layout remains essentially the same, designer Jun Aizaki, who is also responsible for Tinto, has brightened up the formerly dark interior with pale maple wood slats lining the walls, soft lighting and an illuminated rice paper fish suspended from the ceiling. The long bar is now split up between alcohol service and sushi preparation. Speaking of sushi preparation, chef-owner Hiroyuki “Zama” Tanaka was kind enough to take a pause from his pre-opening frenzy to whip up several dishes from the menu for us to photograph.

Tanaka is a veteran of Pod, where he served as both executive sushi chef and executive chef (and worked with Michael Schulson, who is coincidentally opening his modern Asian restaurant Sampan the same week), as well as Genji at the Ritz-Carlton, and has helped out in the sushi capacity in various Starr enterprises for the past decade.

Tanaka says he plans to keep the fish seasonal at Zama, noting that because of fish farming, he can pretty much order any fish he wants any time of the year, but that he’d rather keep it in tune with Mother Nature. So expect to see needlefish in spring and pike at the end of the summer. He’ll also procure some specialty items like live eel and live octopus. He’s waiting until the restaurant hits its stride, but eventually he plans to offer sushi-only omakase.

As for alcohol, in addition to specialty drinks like a Grasshopper-san (green tea liquor, melon liqueur and Calpico soda) and sake punch, (Nigori, black cherry vodka, raspberry puree, mango juice, lime juice garnished with dragon fruit) Zama will also carry a broad selection of sake and shochu, plus beers from Japanese craft brewer Coedo.

Click through the photo gallery to see a preview of some of Zama’s sushi and hot kitchen items.

Zama, 128 S. 19th St.; (215) 568-1027. Open seven days, 5 to 10 p.m. with lunch beginning in a few weeks.

What to Eat at Zama, Opening December 19