On its website, Zentan is described as a "contemporary Japanese restaurant located on Thomas Circle, Zentan features izakaya-style comfort food." I had the pleasure of visiting Zentan during DC's Restaurant Week, which featured a prix-fixe menu.
The first thing I noticed was the ambiance of Zentan. It is a fairly large restaurant, and the space is very open and modern. The decor is what you would expect of a contemporary Japanese restaurant; earthy, dark tones are the predominant color palette, splashed intermittently with pops of color.
I had three courses, and two bottles of sake. I do like sake, but I do not consider myself a connoisseur by any stretch of the imagination. Zentan's selection was extensive, even with the prix-fixe menu, which was a pleasant surprise.
My first dish was beef, chicken, and pork belly skewers. They were cooked properly, and had nice char marks from the grill, but overall, with the exception of the pork belly, it was fairly middling. It was grilled meat on a stick; not bad, but it didn't blow me away. The pork belly on the other hand, was awesome. Pork belly is always awesome, but Zentan served a healthy portion (in proportion to the chicken and steak), and the cut of pork belly wasn't overly fatty, which I can appreciate.
The next two courses were both unbelievable standouts (photos below). First up was the nigiri platter, and although simple, was crisp and clean. The fish was fresh and treated well, the plating was elegant (and designed to guide the patron to eat the nigiri in the proper order, light to heavy), and the rice was cooked to perfection.
The real star of the meal for me was the crispy pork jowl with Japanese curry and a soft boiled egg. It is hard to articulate (which is great for a food blog, obviously) how delicious that dish was. The pork jowl was fried to crispy perfection, but done so without a heaviness that is unfortunately characteristic of many fried dishes. The curry was well balanced, with the right amount of heat and acid, and the soft boiled egg and cabbage paired nicely.
That dish alone would get me to go back. I am planning on visiting Zentan again, and if you never have, you should.