With its window display of brightly colored plastic entrées, a la Japan, Clifton Heights' iZen (212 W. McMillan, 513-381-5905) puts the play back into food — something most of us haven’t done since we were young enough to hurl our Gerber peas across the kitchen and watch them fly.
That’s not to say they don’t offer up serious cuisine. They do; they just deliver it playfully. Like the Cheese Burger Omurice ($8.95), an all-American burger paired with a Japanese fried-rice omelet. Or Cheese Fried Rice ($7.50), fried rice served up like pasta with a blend of cheeses, tomato basil sauce and fresh vegetables.
If you’re starting to question iZen’s culinary sanity, look no further than its dessert: frozen yogurt dipped in rainbow sprinkles, Cap’n Crunch, Cocoa Pebbles and any number of toppings that will make you feel 5 again. It’s enough to think that iZen’s entire goal is to deliver a culinary experience that leaves your inner child in a state of bliss (or perhaps enlightenment).
On the day I stopped in for lunch, the young Japanese man and woman who waited on me at the counter, probably the owners, asked me if I’d been there before. When I said no, they gave me instructions on how to order and explained that their sushi is made fresh three times daily. It’s enough for two meals and comes with Miso Soup and Edamame, all for the bargain price of $9.25.
I ordered the Vegetarian Sushi Combo and the Bibimbob — rice, vegetables and egg with hot Sriracha-like sauce. (Think Korean barbecue sauce.) It was a nice presentation, with delicately chopped radishes, cucumber, mushrooms, carrots and zucchini in little compartments and a sunny-side up egg smack in the middle. Though it wasn’t hot pot Bibimbob (my favorite), it was fresh, healthy and yummy. If you’re starting to question iZen’s culinary sanity, look no further than its dessert: frozen yogurt dipped in rainbow sprinkles, Cap’n Crunch, Cocoa Pebbles and any number of toppings to make you feel 5 again. And the sauce, a secret recipe, was quite hot. If you don’t like hot, ask for another sauce instead. And if you don’t like sunny-side up, ask for fried.
The Vegetarian Sushi wasn’t as flavorful as I expected, but the cucumber, radish, carrots, gampyo and avocado were fresh, and the ginger and wasabi on the side livened it up. The Miso Soup was disappointing: I don’t know if the miso wasn’t aged, but it lacked the flavor and fragrance I’ve always found in Miso Soup.
Besides good miso, the only other thing I found missing from iZen were some of those famously fun Japanese drinks I’ve been eager to try. Instead, there were American classics: tea, energy drinks and vitamin water. It would have been fun to try some of those quirky Japanese favorites like Diet Water (fewer calories than the real thing) or Grass Jelly (yum) or those health drinks packed with collagen that promise beautiful skin. But I suppose I’ll have to book a flight to Japan for that.
In the meantime, iZen is a great place to get some bibimbob and sushi to go; it’s highly recommended for a fast lunch in Clifton Heights. Although there are a few tables available, it’s definitely a take-out place.
CONTACT HEATHER SMITH: [email protected]