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First Look: Zama’s University City Izakaya, coZara

Zama's second restaurant in West Philly opens Friday, with small plates, 140 seats and no sushi
April 23, 2014
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by Danya Henninger

Chef Hiroyuki “Zama” Tanaka runs one of the best sushi restaurants in the city - Rittenhouse’s Zama. Yet there’s no sushi on the menu at his new University City spot, which officially opens Friday, April 23, at 3200 Chestnut.

The izakaya is called coZara, and the name (小皿) roughly translates to “small plates,” which is exactly what the 140-seat restaurant will serve.

The Decor: Tables are spread over two floors. On the first, there’s a nine-seat bar, an open kitchen with 10 counter seats and a line of wood-block tables along the floor-to-ceiling front windows. Upstairs are more tables, a small wooden booth, a communal table, a private dining room and a large patio that will hold 30 seats (when the special-ordered outdoor furniture arrives).

The Food: Menu is split into nine sections, each with a six to a dozen plates or dishes. Menu is here. Most dishes are small - izakaya style, you choose three or four to make a meal - and range from $3-$9. Ramen is also on the menu ($11), as well as cold green tea soba noodles.

The Chicken: Chef de cuisine Chris Paulikas (a Starr alum) is most excited about the Marugoto Whole Chicken Yakitori, which takes about 20 minutes to prepare (as opposed to the quick izakaya starters). A brined bird is cut to order into around 30 pieces, doused in togarashi and yakitori sauce and charred on the grill. It’s served over rice noodles, to share.

The Drinks: General manager Bryon Phillips worked hard on the drink list (also here), fighting for nearly a year to get PLCB approval for “one cup” single-serving sake. Three taps pour Hitachino, Aashi and a local craft brew, along with 15 more Hitachino and local crafts in bottles ($3-$28, for a big bottle of Hitachino Sweet Lacto Stout). Just over a dozen red and white wines start at $9 per glass.

Flip through to see the dining room and learn a bit more about the menu.

Decor is sleek and very Japanese, with butcher-block tables and chairs that combine a light metal frame with a light wood seat.

Chef de cuisine Chris Paulikas comes from the Starr organization - he worked at Route 6 and Morimoto - and also has experience in Asian food from opening Azie on Main. He's flanked by sous chefs Phila Loren (at Zama for the past three years) and Angelo Labate (also a Route 6 alum).

Five or six cooks will work the small line, turning out plates that take just a few minutes each. Paulikas is a fan of the mushroom wontons (four for $6) and the black pepper sesame wings ($9). You can also order ZFC - "Zama Fried Chicken" - which is dipped in a spicy soy dressing ($8).

One of manager Phillips' favorites is soft-shell shrimp, served in lime and sea salt with the head on - you eat the whole thing. Other slightly larger plates (in the range of $8-$9) include the kampachi kama (broiled yellowtail collar) and skate jerky.

As in traditional izakayas, each dish is served on a distinctive plate. Some of the dishware is handmade, shipped from Japan by Zama's family. 

The nine-seat bar is at the far end of the open kitchen, near the entrance and stairs to the second floor. Specialty cocktails range from $6-$11, and many are made with shochu or sake (or both).

Single-serving sake cans or sealed glass jars are commonly sold in vending machines in Japan. There will eventually be nine varieites on offer at coZara.

The second floor has many diverse seating options.

A row of stools is set along the small ridge.

Though there's not a lot of table space at those seats, the view is good - it looks out over the patio, which awaits 30 seats and tables.

A communal table will be surrounded by a custom-built wooden wall, for more privacy.

coZara is adjacent to Zavino on the newly-popping Drexel campus strip. Just down the block is Shake Shack and Joe Coffee.

3200 Chestnut St.; 267-233-7488

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