The Spot: Zu Izakaya Asian Kitchen
2210 N. Scottsdale Road, Tempe
The Hours: Happy hour is from 4 to 7 p.m. and 9 to 11 p.m. daily
Perfect For: Inexpensive Asian-inspired bites, cheap sake bombs, and sake.
The Interior: It's hard to believe this is where Italian restaurant Lo Cascio used to be, on the west side of Scottsdale Road just north of McKellips. The dining room and bar area (confusingly housed in two separate rooms connected by a patio) have been completely redone. The main dining room is sleek with Japanese accents. The bar area, however, is another story: It's bare and lacks any real sense of atmosphere.
The Food: If you're looking for sushi, we suggest heading to Bei down the street, which comes from the same owners as Zu. Instead of sushi, the menu here is dedicated to other types of Asian cuisine such as hot pot, udon, and grilled meats. The happy hour menu is focused around skewers ($2.50 each) and other small appetizers, including chili garlic edamame ($3.95), pan-fried Shishito peppers ($3.95) and, oddly enough, mozzarella sticks. We went with the Agedashi tofu ($4.50), a "lightly battered tofu with sweet tempura sauce" and the "Neobiani steak" skewer ($2.50.)
Fortunately, the dish didn't fall into the flavorless tofu trap. The tofu was firm and bathed in a sweet broth then topped with fish flakes. The flakes added a nice salty element to the tofu, which would have been too sweet otherwise. The happy hour portion was also generous and easily could be split between two or three people.
The Neobiani steak skewer, described as "Korean-style garlic-based marinated minced pork, beef, onion, and carrot" didn't really resemble a skewer, and it tasted like a single slider patty. There wasn't enough flavor in the meat, which also was overcooked. Overall, we weren't impressed.
We were intrigued, however, by Zu Izakaya's regular menu, which includes fusion dishes such as seafood alfredo udon and panko-crusted cheese katsu.
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The Drink: Originally, we wanted to order a Sapporo ($2.95), the only Japanese beer available on the happy hour menu (though Kirin and Kirin light are available as a $6.95 sake bomb during happy hour). However, the bar was out of Sapporo, so we went for a bottle of the Shochikubai nigori unfiltered sake at $7, almost half off the regular price of $12. The sake was decent for the price and kept cold in an ice bucket.
The Conclusion: We were impressed by Zu Izakaya's ambitious menu, but not completely wowed by the execution. An expanded happy hour menu — with more Japanese beer choices — might be more of a crowd-pleaser. All in all, the tofu was great and the sake was a good deal. However, the steak skewer was a letdown and the bar area lacked the sophisticated atmosphere of the dining room.
Don't Miss: The agedashi tofu, a sweet appetizer topped with delicious fish flakes in a generous portion size.
Skip This: The steak skewer, if you're hungry.