In preparation for my upcoming trip to Japan, I have tried to immerse myself in all things Japanese (especially food, of course). I should not have waited for such an excuse to try Zento, however. I might blame its unassuming exterior, which unfortunately blends with the row of other restaurants on the 100 block of Chestnut. In any case, it's well worth adding to your list of best sushi restaurants in Philadelphia. It is a little pricey, but offers unique combinations of exquisitely fresh fish.
Speaking of combinations, we decided to forgo Zento's extensive other options (including a bento box) in favor of its rolls. Its list of rolls is extensive but not overwhelming, offering appealing, fish-centered options. I chose the Green River Roll, which included toro, eel, avocado, and plum paste with dried seaweed outside. The plum paste was a nice compliment to the fresh fish and richness of the roll without being overpowering, offering a peaceful sweetness. I also tried the Love Roll, with salmon, tuna, eel, asparagus, and yellowtail wrapped with soy paper. The soy paper was reminiscent of the doughy coating to mochi, although more subtle. Check out the presentation of two of the pieces, which managed to be both lovely and tasty. Again, the flavors worked well together and were quite fresh. My dining companion ordered the Center City Roll, with broiled yellowtail, tuna, salmon, white fish with crab, asparagus, scallion, and spicy sauce and Zento Square Sushi, with eel, avocado and plum paste inside, tuna or salmon on the top glazed with sweet and spicy sauce. Or at least I think that's what was ordered. Darn my inability to take notes while dining. In any case, rave reviews all around. Although at $15/roll, we had limited ourselves and both ended up a bit hungry. At our waiter's suggestion, we ordered the highly recommended black sesame mochi, which was delicious. The green tea was equally good and provided a nice accompaniment to the meal.
Zento's chef/owner, Gunawan Wibisono, worked his way through sushi restaurants, including Kisso, before becoming a sushi chef at Morimoto. His talent is readily apparent. I would highly recommend Zento; hopefully its BYO status will offset the high prices of its sushi.
Zento is located at 138 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Pa, (215) 925-9998.