Restaurant Roundup: Aozora at Montclair Restaurant Week

It's Restaurant Week all over the place - from New York to Jersey City to Montclair, NJ, the latter of which I partook in this past Saturday evening with Shaun and four of our friends for a long-awaited group dinner. The place? Aozora, a restaurant of the Japanese-European variety. And there's no better way to enjoy a meal with friends at a sleek restaurant that offers a real prix fixe tasting menu. Up front, I will say that I really, really appreciated the Restaurant Week menu at Aozora. Unlike its Manhattan counterpart, Aozora used this opportunity to showcase the best that they've got on the menu by condensing it into a three course feast that really gave me a sense of what this restaurant is all about. This is quite unlike my experience at Fig & Olive (check back for that review soon) last week, in which we fell into the trap of ordering additional items beyond the Restaurant Week menu since it didn't feature the crostini-heard-round-the-world that everyone has raved about. That's where they get ya. Anyhow, let's get down to the deets, shall we?

First up, we ordered some sushi for the table. Since the one appetizer offered didn't include a piece of sushi (don't worry, the main course did), and we were at a sushi restaurant, we felt it only necessary to partake in the signature cuisine and what a mistake it would have been to overlook it. Eel and avocado roll, spicy tuna roll and rainbow roll graced the table, and my palette has never been so thrilled with the results (this assessment does not take into account dining at Nobu). Fresh, delicate and delicious:

Next up was "the appetizer" - yup, quotes are necessary since there was only one option, but a tasting plate at that. Uni with jalapeno, seared tuna with avocado, marinated filet mignon comprised this mini-tasting plate. And isn't it fun to have an appetizer all to yourself? This one was delicious and pretty to boot:

For the main course, there were three options: angus skirt steak, wild sea bass, and a chef's sushi tasting menu. I had angus skirt steak with kalbi sauce, mashed potatoes and asparagus. Though I had no idea what kalbi marinade was, I'm so happy I jumped right in with both feet, so to speak, as the sweet yet savory marinade (my favorite flavor combo) had all the right moves for my perfectly cooked, medium steak.

Who orders steak at a Japanese restaurant, you ask? This girl. What can I say? I'm just a meat and potatoes kind of gal. That's not to say, however, that I wasn't green with envy when this gorgeous plate of sushi came rolling over to the table...

I mean, really, isn't she pretty? And as I've mentioned previously, you can always find me stealing bits of deliciousness off the plates of my co-dinner goers, and this evening was no different. Luckily, my co-dinner goers were oh so generous, and I reaped the palette-pleasing benefits. From the sushi plate, with a closer look:

 

to the wild sea bass... 

...these dishes were all of equal fabulousness, in taste and presentation. Is there anything better than your food arriving, and you almost don't want to disturb it since it's so pretty? That was the feeling with all of the Aozora items. The only disappointment of the night? Dessert. Six plates of caramel cream, aka flan, that had little to no taste whatsoever let alone any sweetness that I so crave post-dinner. I only wish that the little rock sugar lattice-looking creation could have taken over the plate because that was the only part that I found to be enjoyable. I mean, really, where's the mochi?

The bottom line? The menu was overall fantastic, if you put dessert out of your mind, and inspired me to dine at Japanese restaurants more often. If you can get it, make a reservation at Aozora right now. Unfortunately, you'll have to go on my photos above as your RW menu guide since it was nowhere to be found online. Sadly, their website is a doozy. I'm sure it cost a fortune, and yes, it is sleek and chic and all of those things. But when I just wanted to find the menu, it took 10 minutes of searching through the super-Flashed site to find it, and they didn't even have the Restaurant Week menu up (a seriously un-ok practice in my book, and one that many Manhattan digs tend to follow). Even beyond Restaurant Week, Aozora is one that I will surely revisit - and that's the whole point of Restaurant Week, isn't it?

So what do you think? Have you ever dined at Aozora? Have you been trying any new restaurants with Restaurant Week menus?