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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ro-Zu - New sushi in Queen Village

Update: sadly, it appears that chef Todd Kulper left Ro-Zu in late May. The main appeal of the restaurant was the unique work this chef was doing, so it's hard to imagine what Ro-Zu will be without him...  

RoZu continued-on for a short while with a new Sushi Chef. Trey Popp gave it a mixed review in the City Paper, but closed shortly thereafter.  There's another sushi joint in that location.  Todd Kulper is working on the much-anticipated Khyber Izakaya, stay tuned...

It's become cliché in Philadelphia foodie circles to complain about the sushi. Sure, there's Morimoto, but it costs a fortune, the sushi bar experience is quashed by Starr restaurant service quirks, and the place seems to concentrate more on the other parts of the menu, rather than on sushi and sashimi. And yes, one can make the drive to New Jersey for excellent fish at Matt Ito's Fuji, but it's not even a sure thing that Matt will be your itamae on any given evening, which is what elevates a meal there to its loftiest heights. And OK, there are a few other places around town where one can get decent sushi on any given night, but not really anyone doing anything extraordinary, beyond trying to distinguish themselves with the latest crazyspicycrunchyinsideoutroll.

Of course it's too early to say whether Ro-Zu changes this situation, they've only been open a few days, but an early taste has given us hope that there's something interesting happening here. They've certainly set themselves on a difficult path: their tiny space at 7th and Bainbridge barely seats 20 people, and they're not selling drinks, so they better keep those spots full!

Chef Todd Dae Kulper just might be able to do that, with a combination of good quality fish, and creative, modern touches that stop short of the silliness of the crazy-roll trend. Interesting accompaniments abound, but stop short of overshadowing the fish.

We asked the chef to serve us whatever he felt like, and we got a very interesting and varied progression of flavors and textures. From a tiny Kumamoto Oyster accented with a delicate, yet spicy, tomato salsa, through live scallop dressed with compressed pomelo and Thai chili pepper, to more traditional nigiri, most courses had some extra twist that gave the fish an extra spark.

Delicate slices of fluke were dressed with a citrusy gremolata. Tuna tataki bathed in a pool of ginger ponzu. A piece of snapper nigiri was enlivened by a shiso leaf layered between the fish and rice. A piece of bluefin tuna was slicked to a high gloss with a brush of seasoned soy. Those touches of seasoning by the chef made each piece complete, I didn't think once to dip anything in additional soy, or dab it with wasabi.

A piece of house-cured salmon tingled with a hint of citrus, and displayed a slightly firmed-up texture, but tasted mostly of fresh fish, not of sauce and seasonings. Hamachi Belly, Orange Clam, Horse Mackerel and Uni were left more on their own, perhaps a touch of ginger or chili, but never enough to distract from the main ingredient.
It's not all perfect yet, the rice had a few small textural issues, and the pacing was a touch uneven, but it's early days, one needs to let a place get into a groove before being too judgmental about every little thing.

The lights are a little too bright, the large TV mounted on the wall is out of place with the feel of a restaurant like this, the black plates don't show off the sushi as well as they could - they get smeared and hazy with residue that is not visually appealing. But these are minor things that may all flex as the place adjusts to the real rhythms and strains of serving a variety of diners.

We're certainly looking forward to following the developments, they're certainly off to a good start. Those of you looking for quality, creative sushi - just be sure to leave me a spot at the bar, OK?

7th and Bainbridge Sts


  1. Anonymous7:03 PM

    I ate there tonight. Looks like this place wants to stay. They atmosphere is going in the right direction and food is delicious and Chef Chef Todd Dae Kulper is chomping at the bit to show off his culinary talents with an expanded menu coming next week!

    By the way ... this is a BELLA VISTA eatery not QUEEN VILLAGE.

  2. Anonymous11:29 AM

    Isn't this area Bella Vista?

  3. Great post. That scallop dish sounds sick.

  4. OK, OK, Bella Vista... Is this a gang thing? The Queen Village sushi eaters better watch their backs all the way up in Bella Vista? They can't just stroll across 6th street any old time and think they're still in Queen Village... Anyway, whichever neighborhood it is, the area can use a spot like this, so I certainly wish them much success.

    My dining partner on that first night has been back, and said his second meal was even better, which is a promising trajectory.

    And Drew, yes, the scallops were pretty banging. The product itself - live scallops from Massachusetts, was amazing, and the preparation did a great job of highlighting the fresh flavors. I look forward to seeing what else he's got in his repertoire!

  5. I really love this place too. Here's the thing - it looks like Todd is no longer there, as of about a week ago. Not clear why. I wonder how this will turn out...

  6. Thanks for that update - we've been trying to go there recently but noticed they've been closed, calling gets messages about an "emergency" and once the owner mentioned something about contractors, but we've been afraid that these might have been code for the chef leaving... I hope it's not true, but you never know. I'll update here when I figure out something definitive.

  7. We called too, and spoke with the business partner, Ralph. He confirmed it, Todd had to go for reasons that aren't clear. We'll see, since basically Todd = Ro-Zu.

  8. Anyone know where Todd went? I hope he stayed in Philly. I probably went about 5 times and was blown away by Todd and the quality of his fish.

  9. I'm not sure where Todd is, but we're just as curious as you are, and hopeful that he stayed nearby, so we'll let you know, if we find anything out.

    In the interim, Michael Klein reported in the Inquirer that a new sushi chef has been hired (from Kooma in West Chester, FWIW) so the place will at least continue as a sushi restaurant.

    Will this guy be able to match what Todd was doing? I'm skeptical, but we can hope!

  10. Anonymous9:49 AM

    I have not been to Ro-Zu yet but can comment on the new chef. I've followed Hung through three restaurants prior to Kooma and can't wait to try Ro-Zu. Hung is one of the best up and coming chefs I know and is likely to please everyone!!!!

  11. Anonymous2:39 PM

    I have been to Ro-Zu a few times before Todd left and twice with the two new chef. I went last Saturday and I am still impressed with the quality, and the freshness of the sushi. Ralf, the owner, has many years of experience in the restaurant industry and managing country clubs. He sure knows how to pick quality sushi chef. By far, Ro-Zu has stand out by the freshness and uniqueness of the dishes.

  12. Glad to hear good things about Ro-Zu.

    Please forgive my cynicism, but I always feel like I have to take anonymous comments with a grain of salt, especially ones that talk more about the owner than about the food or the chef... but perhaps I'm too suspicious!

    In any case, I'd love to hear more reports about the "new" Ro-Zu.

  13. Ralph Pecca2:47 AM

    Just would like to point out, the anonymous person who commented does not know me personally (spelled my name as "Ralf" wrong. I do appreciate the compliments. Thank you anonymous.

    I understand, and maybe you should also realize, when it comes to the internet, some people, do not want their name plastered all over it.

    Obviously, I took a hit when Todd left. I remain steadfast and committed to serving the best quality product available in as gracious a manner as possible. Please judge and write about my restaurant on what you actually observe and not by what you surmise. Hopefully, in the future, I will win your confidence back.

  14. Anonymous3:27 PM

    Rozu closed down. The restaurant is mostly cleaned out, only the shushi bar is left over

  15. That's a shame that the chef left. The nigiri sushi and sashimi looks amazing and your description sounds so delicious. I think I'll still have to give it a try!