Zaru is the hip new noodle shop in Mills 50 from the James Beard nominated restaurateurs sibling team of Jimmy Tung and Johnny Tung. And yes, I know that it is no longer hip to say hip calling it “fire” doesn’t seem to fit.
The restaurant occupies a smallish space with a commanding view of East Colonial Drive and specializes in udon noodle dishes, specifically the Sanuki style, the thick and dense noodles from Japan’s Kagawa prefecture. (Kagawa was previously known as Sanuki Province.)
The menu is both simple and complicated. There are nine udon options – four cold and five hot – and 17 “add-ons,” not counting the one for extra noodles. The add-ons shouldn’t be looked at as side dishes or things you order for the table – each is meant to accompany the specific udon dish that you select. (Actualy, the reason they go with a specific order may be because diners are meant to mark their selections on the paper menu, putting a checkmark next to their choices using a pencil provided on the table.)
And don’t be shy about asking the server for help with the add-ons, such as what onsen egg or umeboshi is, or for anything else. The young staff is eager, kindly and knowledgeable.
And you may not even need anything added to your udon; there’s plenty in the bowl already.
My lunch companion chose a hot udon dish, nikutama, and I went cold with the mentaiko tsukimi udon.
The nikutama featured sliced beef and onsen egg. (Niku means meat and tama is egg in Japanese.) Both were nestled in the bowl alongside the chewy noodles in a dashi broth. The meat was thinly sliced and slightly fatty (not a bad thing), and the whole egg was delicately soft-boiled and had the texture of a peeled poached egg. (It also reminded me of the sous vide-cooked eggs I made just a few days ago.)
My cold mentaiko tsukimi dish had whole pollock roe sacs (that’s what mentaiko means) and an egg yolk, presumably representing the tsukimi, which means moonshot. An egg yolk is common in a ramen or udon entree but is a different experience in cold broth that doesn’t cook it somewhat. Good, yes, but I’d go with the hot noodles next time.
Each order came with little things to add, such as scallions, ginger, wasabi and tempura flakes. And despite what I said above about the add-ons not being side dishes, that’s pretty much what they were, at least the ones we ordered, which included a variety of tempura – shrimp, shishito and sweet potato – each dressed in delectable lacy batter.
From the list of zensai, or appetizers, we noshed on a bowl of cubes of eggplant, marinated in miso and grilled. And yaki gyoza, crispy dumplings plumply filled with pork and cabbage.
The main dining area looks into the open kitchen and is decorated with shelves of noodle bowls displayed as museum pieces.
It isn’t posh but it’s comfortable, and it’s a pleasant place to enjoy a bowl of well crafted noodles.