Zen Bistro, Artistic Neo-Japanese Cuisine in the San Francisco Airport Area

My family lived in the area near San Francisco International Airport for a long time, almost 10 years. Although we lived in Burlingame for most of that time, we lived in San Mateo for seven months. The San Francisco Airport area (SFO) has five cities, including Burlingame, San Mateo, Millbrae, San Bruno, and South San Francisco. This restaurant is in Millbrae.

We were on our way home from exercising at the gym one Saturday afternoon. My wife wanted to buy fresh fruits at a grocery shop in Millbrae. We found this restaurant across the road from the grocery store. The name of the restaurant is Zen Bistro. As a Japanese national, I was a bit tired of ordinary Japanese restaurants with California rolls and sushi bars, so I was interested in checking out this restaurant. It looked new and was decorated in an interesting way with a dark wall color and black interior. It looked like Zen Dojo for meditation. A modern style of indirect lighting gave the building an interesting combination of traditional and modern atmospheres.

We decided to have lunch there. Walking into the restaurant, we found that the dining room was more like a contemporary bar than a Japanese restaurant. When we sat at a table, our waitress brought us marinated Japanese vegetables that were good. My wife ordered an eel rice bowl, and I ordered “Tonkatsu” (breaded fried pork). All Japanese eel bowls have some image. It is usually a red lacquered wooden bowl or box with rice and grilled eels on top. However, the dish my wife received surprised us.

It was quite different from our presumption. Their rice was placed on the center of a flat, white ceramic plate. Avocado slices were placed like a surrounding wall to support the rice in the center, and eel was placed on top. More vegetables were placed on the edge of the plate. It was a unique presentation. In addition, as my wife ate, she found pieces of eel meat hidden inside the rice. It was delicious.

My Tonkatsu came with three separate plates. One was for fried pork, another held vegetables, and the last one was for rice. Since they were all separated, the fried pork did not get wet from the vegetables, and the vegetables stayed fresh. Although I had thought it would not be easy to eat rice from a flat plate (because rice in Japan is always served in a bowl), I found out that it was not so bad. Both dishes were excellent.

We took our friends there, and they loved it. The restaurant provides a cozy dining area, which is a comfortable place to stay for a relatively long time while enjoying conversations with friends over our meals.