Restaurant Review

Zoota

Michael Perselay apparently named his restaurant Zoota—a play on the French exclamation zut alors—because he wants people to say wow when they taste his food. Perselay describes it as “a blend of Southwestern, Pan-Asian, and French cuisine.”

Although there’s a neon open sign in the window and the restaurant’s name is painted on the glass, Zoota isn’t easy to find in the dark. On our first visit, my guests decide the restaurant resembles an old-fashioned boardinghouse inside, while another time my companions find it just plain charming. I’d describe it as funky and casual, although the decor could be more cheerful; when we first enter and ask for a place to hang our coats, we’re directed to a closet near the front door that turns out to hold cleaning supplies.

As for the food, some dishes are attractively plated, like the pan-roasted scallops arranged on heart-of-palm logs on a bed of mango-and-corn relish to look like mushrooms. Other dishes, like a main course of very good braised short ribs featuring a huge slab of beef flavored with ancho chili and molasses, would satisfy the most ambitious appetite. Portions are large indeed, although many dishes taste too sweet for the average palate, like the otherwise good shrimp-and-tarragon tortellini with bacon-and-corn salad, which is permeated with a sweet caramel-shrimp broth. I believe Perselay would be more successful if he focused on one kind of cooking rather than a mélange.

For appetizers, a salad of feta, tomato, and olives with arugula and grilled fresh sardines is delicious, as is the tagliatelle with asparagus, shiitakes, goat cheese, and truffle oil. Fried calamari served with a wasabi-and-sweet-chili sauce are tender and tasty. The war char beef, served sliced over black sticky rice, poppyseed salsa, and sugarcane syrup, is too sweet. Jumbo lump crab fritters and a main course of crisp pumpkin-and-potato cakes are greasy. We exchange the latter for an excellent pan-roasted tuna with grilled watermelon, which is served rare, as requested.

Other main courses include good duck ravioli with acorn squash, walnuts, spinach, and brown sugar. The charred salmon, served with apple-and-fennel salad, is fine. But the bluefish and the pork medallions are both overcooked, and the crab cakes, with a spicy mango drizzle and black-bean-and-corn salad, have the texture and flavor of poultry stuffing with a faint flavor of crab.

As for dessert, the pumpkin crème brûlée and a moist, well-flavored caramel tres leches cake are both good, while the deep-dish apple pie is excellent. A pear-and-squash crisp is a bit heavy, although I like the buttermilk ice cream served with it. Belgian waffles, quartered and served with molasses ice cream and truffle honey, are worth ordering, if only for the truffle honey. And my entire table likes the chocolate-walnut cake, served with hot fudge sauce.

 

Reviewed in: March 2006

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Restaurant Details

  • Cuisine Type:
    American - Asian - European - French - Fusion/Eclectic - Pan-Asian - Southern
  • Price Range:
    Expensive
  • Ambience:
    Funky
  • Service:
    Very good
  • Wine list:
    BYO
  • Zoota
    60 South Main Street
    Phillipsburg, NJ 08865
  • Hours:
    Lunch: Wed-Fri, 11:30 am-2:30 pm
    Dinner: Wed-Thurs, 5-9 pm; Fri-Sat, 5-10 pm; Sun, 2-9pm
    Brunch: Sun, 10:30 am-2 pm.

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