Zama’s Sushi Goes Rice-less (and We Tried It)

Chef Hiroyuki "Zama" Tanaka is healthifying the sushi options at his Rittenhouse restaurant. Here, our review of the goods.

“People come in and ask for more and more sashimi options,” Lisa, our waitress at Zama, a Rittenhouse Square sushi bar, informed me. I nodded. I don’t know what sashimi is. I could hardly read the menu. “Chef Zama sees where Japanese cuisine is headed. This rice-less sushi option has been a long time coming for him. He thinks it’s more authentic.”

I think it’s awesome that chef Hiroyuki “Zama” Tanaka, the restaurant’s founding father, is providing a healthier sushi alternative for his patrons. I do. The quinoa chirashi served with each “rice-less” combination has double the protein and fats as rice, and less carbs to boot. There are health conscious vegetable wraps, too: tuna wrapped in daikon, snapper wrapped in cucumber, salmon wrapped in lettuce, yellowtail wrapped in carrot, and blue fin tartar with scallions sandwiched in between watermelon radish.

This is all great news for you sushi-lovers, but it means nothing to me. Why, you ask? Because I hate sushi. I just … I hate it. And so I entered Zama with a heavy heart, knowing full well how my last sushi experience ended: wrapped around a toilet.

To keep my mind unbiased, I admired the restaurant’s decor—sleek, modern. The room felt expensive. I felt expensive. Was I still in Philadelphia? My stomach eased. In a few quick moments, my coat was checked and I was seated with a menu.

“I’ll, um, just have the rice-less sushi, please,” I told Lisa Falls, my waitress. She’s been working with Chef Zama for eight years; first at POD Restaurant on Sansom Street, then at Zama when he made the move. I forget if she actually asked me, “Are you sure?” or if her face just read that way, but I was sure. I didn’t want to eat more sushi than necessary.

Despite my hesitance, the rice-less combination looked gorgeous. Chef Zama, according to Lisa, genuinely cares about the meal’s aesthetic, making sure each dish is flawless before it leaves the kitchen. “He wants them to be picture perfect,” she said as she left the table. Here we go. I squeezed my eyes shut, took my first bite of salmon wrapped in lettuce, and waited for death.

But wait a minute … Crisp. Light. I wasn’t dry heaving. I liked it. I liked it? Yes, I liked it.

Although I’m not yet ready to jump whole-hog (er, tuna?) into the world of sushi, what Zama has created at his eponymous restaurant feels significant: a healthier option for a generation of people who are interested in eating healthier food. Zama is riding the trendy wave, yes, but with great intentions and seriously delicious results. (And that’s coming from me, the Brigadier General of the Anti-Sushi Brigade.)

Oh yeah, and Zama fist-bumped me as I left. We’re bros now—no big deal.