Posted by Trey Popp on May 3rd, 2012
In The Revisit, Philadelphia Magazine restaurant critic Trey Popp turns his attentions to classic, underappreciated or overlooked restaurants in Philly and beyond. This month, he drops in for a meal at Zama in Rittenhouse Square.
“It happened first in Philadelphia” isn’t the common claim it once was, back when the Constitution’s ink was still sticky and George Washington ruled the realm from the 500 block of Market Street. But you can say, without too much of a stretch, that it was one of the first American cities to turn its chefs into celebrities. After all, when you don’t have any real celebrities, you have to work with what you’ve got.
Whether that’s the strict truth or just a poetic one, Philly today retains a brand of hometown chef fixation that you don’t see anywhere else. For proof, take the menu at Zama. Over and above the dragon rolls and miso bouillabaisse and tofu cooked tableside, pride of place goes to maki-style homages to Marc Vetri, Michael Solomonov, and Pierre Calmels.
The Vetri, Zahav, and Bibou rolls name-check the best Italian, Middle Eastern, and French restaurants in Philadelphia. They also signal the sort of company Hiroyuki “Zama” Tanaka wishes to be considered alongside. My wife and I went on a recent weekend evening to see whether he’s gotten there.