Restaurant review: Yakitori Zai

Yakitori ZaiThe following review was written by Michael Constantinides.

Yakitori Zai promises a culinary experience off the beaten path on the South End’s most favorite intersection, says lifestyle contributor Michael C.

IT’S THE CORNER OF SHAWMUT AND UNION PARK or officially, 315 Shawmut Avenue. For almost two years, we walked past this address and it pained us to see the most incredible commercial spot in the South End sit vacant and unutilized – After Joe V’s closed, we thought of the many a wasted summer evening when, with what pleasure, we could have been sitting on the bumpy patio enjoying a civilized dinner and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc or the many a January night when we could have been parked by the fish-bowl windows watching people walk by outside in the snow, Edward Hopper-style. If only there was a restaurant there. It was a crime.

Since last June, lo and behold, there is new hope for this beloved spot, courtesy of Yakitori Zai. It’s not like it didn’t take the owners forever to actually open and it’s not like they weren’t abysmally clueless when they decided to initially offer only “tasting reservations” at around $120 per head (I suppose they were very savvy in the art of shooting oneself in the foot).

Anyway, all that’s behind us now! The menu is extensive, interesting and reasonable and the whole concept of yakitori, fascinating – here’s how it works: the bite-sized pieces of meat, seafood and vegetables are simply grilled and flavored with sauces, glazes, crusts and other accoutrements that cause explosions of taste in the mouth – not a single part of that chicken going to waste (yes, of course you only order the parts you can handle).

I had dinner at Zai the other night with a friend – a rather sophisticated gentleman – and, granted I had just stepped off a plane, I don’t think it was mere hunger that caused us both to really enjoy the experience. The chicken breast, prepared in three different ways melts in your mouth like marshmallow, the duck is tender (not an easy feat), the chicken and egg rice bowls and noodle soup hearty, the okra not slimy and, above all, the portions are controlled (if you want all-you-can-eat, try the buffet at Yangtze River in Lexington, MA – no joke – it’s worth the drive).

However, a tip for the management: please get rid of the hideous yellow/brown walls, which, if I am not mistaken, may be a relic from Joe V’s – seriously?! Consider a sultry dark gray or a funky hand-painted wallpaper (think Devon’s in P-Town) to complement your fine fare with that subtle touch of ambiance that’s oh-so-important to a South End dining establishment – in other words, get with the program.

Admittedly, Zai is not the cheapest place you can get dinner on a Thursday night but, contrary to rumors, the place is not hideously expensive (anymore). Think of it as halfway between your authentic noisy Chinatown eatery and the nationally famous Oya in the Leather District – a good balance of culinary delight and affordability. And all this at the most beautiful, charming location in the South End, people! So give it a shot. Support this new culinary idea that’s landed smack in the middle of our beautiful neighborhood. Don’t let 315 Shawmut go empty again. Be a South End culinary vigilante.

Yakitori Zai, 315 Shawmut Avenue, Boston, MA –

Michael CAbout the author:  A former banker, Michael C offsets the sobriety of his professional life with his passion for design, music, the arts and anything beautiful.

© Michael Constantinides 2012 – all rights reserved


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