Lucky Robot remodel of Zen Officially Open

Upscale dishes ordered via IPad

Baramutsu sashimi at Lucky Robot
Baramutsu sashimi at Lucky Robot (Photo Lux Baumann)

In a quick nine-day renovation in early October, beloved Zen on South Congress became the bright and modern Lucky Robot. Always known for its healthy and quick food, the remodel elevates all of what came before, but insists that speed is still very much part of the plan.

An open sushi bar with several seats has taken over the southern wall, and small tables, each outfitted with its own IPad, decorate the dining room. The most unique table is a four-top that seats two guests on a front-porch swing that dangles from the rafters. Brightly-colored PVC pipes run along the walls. Overall, the new decor is fun, playful, and comfortable.

Members of the press were presented a tasting menu last week, which started with a selection from the list of sake punches. While beer and wine are also available, sharing a large pitcher of cleverly-infused sake seems the way to go. We tried the Orient Express, with a cucumber-infused sake, lime, lemongrass, cucumber and bitter lemon from Fever-Tree. It was light, strong, and tasty. The spicy Green Manalishi used Junmal sake, lemon and lime juices, agave nectar, cucumber, mint, cilantro, and lots of serrano peppers. Someone has clearly put thought into these fun concoctions.

Our tasting menu included delicious sashimi of Baramutsu with lemongrass soy sauce, cilantro, ponzu and crispy fried shallots. The crunch, salt, and sweetness of the onions were perfect here. An appetizer of charred brussels sprouts was again tossed in a lemongrass soy; I could not take a table again and not get those sprouts. A roll of hanger steak and sliced prawns was gobbled up, while the Green Machine, a seared albacore sashimi plate was so hot with habanero oil, it was hard to taste the cucumber, the avocado, or the fish. Next time, I will go light on the spiced oil, which I can very easily modify.

Leading us to the modern ordering model, the IPad. Owner Adam Weisberg explained that the technology cannot replace the service, it just enhances it. The guest is meant to be provided with a great measure of control over their own experience. He admits they are “taking some risks” with the IPads, but feels sure that the benefits will outweigh any negatives. Don’t like waiting to be greeted by a server? Sit down and start ordering immediately. Want to take your time and not feel rushed? You set the pace of your meal with the IPad. Gotta get back to the office in a hurry? Check out and pay right at the table, no server needed. Weisberg says that servers are there to support guests, answer questions that the IPad cannot, and maintain the tables by bussing, refilling drinks, and generally being available. Further tweaks in the system will allow guests to create an account, of sorts, that stores all their preferences, allergies, dietary restrictions to streamline the ordering process even further. For the low-tech guest, the IPad is removed and service reverts to old school. Any way the guests want to run the show, they can. Everything we tasted this night was very, very good. And for those of us who might miss the old build-your-own bowl, not to worry. It’s right there on the menu, just as before. As the name indicates, luck is a part of everything, according to Weisberg, and the IPads are the guests' “personal little robots”.

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