At new Tempe restaurant Zu & Pocha, it's hard to know where to look first. Glowing circular lights shine down on white marble tables. Greenery dangles from between wooden slats lining the ceiling. A long raw bar displays seafood splayed over ice and roll-up garage doors let fresh air into the modern space. Every surface draws your attention.
The walls, bar, and even inserts above each booth are imprinted and carved, with patterns swirling around the room cohesively creating a visually stimulating space. This restaurant is fresh, cool, and textured. And this sharp attention to detail carries over to the menu.
Zu & Pocha is the latest restaurant from Valley hospitality group New Restaurant Concepts. Sister restaurants in the group include Bei Sushi Bar, Bei Express, Zu Izakaya, and Junn Sushi. The latest restaurant is more like an upscale, out-of-town cousin visiting from somewhere like Santa Monica or San Diego. Chill-hop music fills the space, adding to the vibe.
"The concepts for all my restaurants are different," owner and chef June Kang says. "This one is basically a modern seafood restaurant based on Korean cuisine."
Pocha is short for Pojanmacha, the new restaurant's website explains. In Korea, the term refers to a makeshift bar that serves drinks and drinking snacks. The menu draws inspiration from around the world, Kang says, but each dish has a uniquely Korean touch.
While some of his other restaurants are found in Scottsdale, Kang explained that Old Town is full of seafood and fine dining options.
On a recent visit, groups of friends from neighboring Arizona State University split a seafood platter from the seasonally-rotating raw bar. A young couple enjoys a date and a family ogles at the eclectic menu.
After sitting down in a large, circular booth, drinks are the first order of business. The menu offers beer, wine, soju by the carafe or bottle, and cocktails. The Seoul Highball, made with soju, berries, seasonal herbs, and sparkling mineral water falls a little flat despite the bubbles.
The Dirty Sikhye Martini, made with sikhye which is a sweet Korean rice drink, vodka, coffee liqueur, and drunken cinnamon jujube fruits is reminiscent of an espresso martini, however a salty cold foam on top distracts and overpowers the other flavors. A carafe of soju infused with juice may be the better move.
The buns gently cradle a cold lobster and celery salad mixed with yuja aioli and topped with crispy ginger. Yuja, sometimes known as yuzu, is a citrus flavor prevalent throughout the menu. The cold, bright and fresh lobster paired with the warm, dark buns provide contrasting texture and temperature in each bite.
After enjoying our appetizers, we moved on to the main meal, picking one hearty dish and a lighter option to share. The Pollack Pasta, which our server enthusiastically recommended, arrives, presenting another stark contrast.
Housemade squid ink noodles provided a dark background to a light, creamy sauce. Chunks of pollack roe clump together in the sauce, gradually disintegrating as we pull noodles from the pile. Rich and creamy, this dish tastes like an alfredo sauce spiked with seafood.
After a dish that doubled as a health food, we dug into something a little more decadent. The dessert menu includes four options and a dish simply titled Yuja caught our attention.
Sprinkled on top was a smattering of mesquite graham cracker crumbs, honey, blueberries, and strawberries. The tart curd cut the sweetness of the fluff, creating a balanced bite. But it doesn't take long for the sugar rush to kick in.
Zu & Pocha opened in the summer, a hard time for businesses so close to Arizona State University. But come the school year, this spot is sure to be full of students. So for the rest of us, visit soon before the tables fill up.
Zu & Pocha1212 East Apache Blvd., Tempe