First US location of Japanese restaurant allows guests to fish for their dinner

New York City may not be the first place that springs to mind for those looking to cast a line and reel in a catch. But true to form, Manhattan once again proves itself as the city that has it all, with Zauo {152 West 24th Street, New York City; 646.905.2274;}, a Japanese-style fishing restaurant opened in October 2018, where guests are not only encouraged to fish for their dinner but are also heartily cheered on when they reel in a catch. “When a customer catches a fish, we want to celebrate with that customer and make them feel really special,” says Zauo’s General Manager, Rui Higuchi. “We want them to enjoy a good time.”


Zauo’s Chelsea location is the first US outpost of the restaurant, which boasts 13 locations in Japan. “The owner always wanted to open a location in the US,” explains Higuchi of Noriki Takahashi, who owns the restaurants along with his sons, Kazuhisa and Takuya. “The reason why he chose New York City is because New York is known for its diversity.” The demographics of Zauo’s guests reflect that diversity, according to Higuchi. During its first holiday week, Zauo saw hordes of tourists. On Sundays, lots of families come in with children in tow. Couples on date nights, birthday celebrations, corporate parties and other group outings are equally common at the concept eatery. “That’s what is really great for us,” Higuchi says. And while the novelty of the restaurant’s interactive aspect would seem to lend itself largely to tourists or those marking special occasions, Higuchi says that’s not the case. “This is kind of a local area where there are a lot of apartments, and we have a lot of customers from the local area,” he says.


As visitors to Zauo are seated, a server explains to them the fishing procedure and rules, which include “no catch and release.” According to Higuchi, 99 percent of customers opt to catch their own meal. “It is our business concept after all, but there are some customers who don’t want to fish because they’re a little squeamish, so they order from the table,” he says, adding, “But there’s one catch—if you catch your own fish, you get it at a cheaper price.”

Fishing for Dinner at Zauo

After filling out a waiver, guests who choose to fish are presented with a lanyard holding a fishing “license” which bears their table number. From there, depending on the type of fish for which diners have a hankering, they head to one of three tanks—the one on the first floor holds freshwater fish, consisting of steelhead salmon, rainbow trout and hybrid striped bass, while the two on the second floor contain saltwater fish, including fluke and flounder, as well as Dungeness crab, lobster and abalone. “Occasionally, we get spiny lobsters from Florida,” Higuchi says. Tanks are partitioned, allowing diners to home in on their desired fish.

Those who feel like a fish out of water when it comes to rods and reels needn’t fret about going hungry. “Everybody succeeds eventually, because we have staff by the fish tank. We call them fish attendants. They keep a close eye on the customers, to ensure safety but also to give tips and advice, and to help the customers secure a catch,” Higuchi explains, adding that the attendants provide assistance in setting up patrons’ poles.

Anago Press Sushi & Zauo Don

Once a catch is secured, a celebration ensues. “We try to get everyone involved—not only the staff, but the customers, as well,” says Higuchi of the lively atmosphere that can be expected at Zauo. Staff members call out “ote wo haishaku!” which means, “get your hands ready” in Japanese. “We get everyone’s attention and all the customers clap. And then we bang on the taiko [drum] and the customers feel really good about it.” Diners are offered to further get in on the action by striking the taiko drum themselves. “All the customers always want to hit the taiko,” adds Higuchi. This revelry also takes place for diners marking a special occasion, such as a birthday or anniversary, both of which happen often at Zauo.

Similar to Zauo’s locations in Japan, the Chelsea spot is home to a wooden boat suspended to comprise part of the restaurant’s second floor. Handmade by Zauo team members from Japan, the landlocked watercraft contains seating for diners, complementing other nautical decor throughout. Downstairs, patrons can grab a drink at the bar—positioned across from the tank to offer a bird’s eye view of the fishing fun.

Nigiri 9 & Lobster Tempura


With its two main chefs hailing from Japan, Zauo’s offerings are as authentic as they come. Diners choose from four fish preparations—tempura, grilled, simmered in soy sauce or steamed in sake. According to Higuchi, servers sometimes offer other “secret” preparations, such as teriyaki, if the kitchen volume allows for it. All fish are farm-raised, and are served a la carte. Appetizers, including raw or fried octopus and other Japanese delicacies, salads, sushi and sashimi are among the menu options. Landlubbers can opt for dishes like Tori Kara-Age (deep-fried chicken thigh), Buta Kakuni (braised pork belly) or grilled duck breast topped with scallion and szechuan pepper soy sauce. Vegetarians and vegans—who, according to Higuchi, are more likely to be found protesting outside than sitting down to dine—can nosh on appetizers including deep-fried tofu or edamame and seaweed salad. Tempura vegetables and sushi sans seafood provide dinner options. “There’s a lot of stuff on our menu that we can adjust to make it vegan, because we just have to substitute the ingredients,” Higuchi assures meat-free patrons.

Ikura Tyawanmushi & Green Tea Ice Cream


In line with its Japanese roots, Zauo’s bar serves up libations from its motherland. “Our owners are true sake lovers; so is our kitchen staff,” says Higuchi. “So we try to have a pretty selective menu in terms of sake.” Served by the glass, carafe or bottle, sake choices include Daiginjo, Ginjo, Junmai, Honjozo, and even a sparkling sake, along with fruit sakes and liqueurs. “Honjozo is a very dry sake,” explains Higuchi. “That pairs well with pretty much all of our dishes. It just complements the fish really well.”

Japanese whiskeys are offered by the glass, or, as is common in Japan, in a highball. “In Japan, highballs are whiskey with club soda. We assumed the customers in America would really enjoy highballs but we were so wrong, because all the customers here like to drink their whiskey straight or on the rocks,” Higuchi says. “Japanese whiskey is getting really popular. A lot of the customers love it. Sometimes we have a big group come in, and they just drink the whole bottle.”

Shōchū, a Japanese spirit distilled from sweet potato, rice, barley or buckwheat, is typically enjoyed on the rocks or mixed with hot water. “If you’re willing to take a step up from sake, a lot of people go for shōchū,” Higuchi says.

Japanese and American beers are on tap, and the succinct wine list was painstakingly created. “It took us a long time to select all the wines, because it’s not easy pairing wines with sushi. It was a bit of a challenge,” says Higuchi.

Although Zauo undoubtedly represents a memorable and special experience for patrons, Higuchi wants to make it clear that the restaurant is anything but a one-and-done affair. “We want customers to come back, so it’s our job to show them that our restaurant isn’t somewhere you just come once,” he says. “We want you to keep coming back.

Higuchi also emphasizes that all are welcome at Zauo. “Some customers are afraid to bring children, but we love children,” he says. “We want to be open to any type of customers—big groups, small groups, couples, dates—people shouldn’t be afraid to step into Zauo, because you’re going to have a good time.”

By Jessica D’Amico