If you somehow haven’t seen it as you crawl to or from I-75 on S.R. 56, or you haven’t seen the ads (or my previous shorter writeups) in these pages, a favorite from Tampa’s Armature Works has opened in our area.

Zukku-San Sushi Bar & Grill opened towards the end of 2020, next to Crumbl Cookie, and has brought that great Tampa vibe along with it.  

But, while the Zukku Sushi location in the Tampa Heights Market at Armature Works is set up (like most restaurants in that space) as a faster-food mix of “curated” sushi, poké bowls and sushi burritos, co-owner Ferdian Jap and his possible future brother-in-law and co-owner/Executive Chef Gia Tran (Ferdian’s girlfriend is Gia’s wife’s sister) have brought the same “works of art” feel to the coolly elegant Zukku-San, which is much more of a sit-down, fine dining restaurant, featuring a super-premium, full liquor bar.

Zukku co-owner Gia Tran

Gia, who spent several years at Sushi Alive in the Westshore Business District, followed by five years at Ocean Prime outside of the International Plaza, says that Zukku-San allows him to get even more into his unique combination of knowledge and love of the freshest sushi and the ability to create more upscale works of art that he learned at Ocean Prime.

In fact, “Zukku” is a canvas commonly used by artists to create their masterpieces and “San” is a title of respect added to a name in Japanese. Amazing food is the art form and the chefs are the artists who use the finest ingredients to create these culinary masterpieces. In fact, there even are large and small sushi and sashimi palettes served on a custom artist’s palette. These folks are not playing around when it comes to food.

If you spend a few minutes with Ferdian and Chef Gia, you can tell just how excited they are about their latest venture together (they also have a Zukku Sushi location in Charlotte, NC) — and they’re not the only ones. 

Although fans of Zukku-San pack the place (but please note that there are few eateries better set up for social distancing) for dinner virtually every night, Gia and Ferdian only recently unveiled a new lunch menu, so the lunch crowd is just now building.

But, while you can get the full dinner menu if you go at lunch time, there also are lunch-only items, like excellent tuna and other poké bowls and tender short rib and other bento boxes, all of which include salad, rice, two fried gyoza, or pork dumplings, and Zukku-San’s amazingly fresh and delicious sautéed veggies. The bottom line is that whether you go for lunch, dinner or drinks and appetizers, you really can’t beat the quality — or the artistry — of Chef Gia’s food at Zukku-San.

For Starters…

Jannah and I haven’t always gotten a full meal when we visit Zukku-San because the starters are just so delicious.

But, every dine-in visitor to Zukku-San also receives a towel that puffs up when your server pours hot water on it. But, neither photographer Charmaine George nor I got a picture that really does this magical process justice, so you’ll just have to check it out for yourself, OK? 

And, even though Jannah and I aren’t as big on sushi as some Zukku-San diners, the fish is always fresh and excellent, as is the seared ahi tuna tataki. Also outstanding are the fried vegetable spring rolls (served with a unique orange chili sauce), the skewers of beef tenderloin and chicken yakitori (shrimp and scallop yakitori also are on the menu; all are skewered with fresh sautéed onions, peppers zucchini and even broccoli) and the fried pork gyoza. 

But, our favorite starters are probably the wide variety of Tempura a la Carte options. Jannah’s favorite is the zucchini and mine are the broccoli, carrot and amazing whole soft shell crab tempura (right). Also on the tempura menu are shrimp, sweet potato, tofu, whole giant squid, avocado, scallops, hamachi (yellowtail) collar, asparagus, onion rings, red and jalapeño pepper and even whole lobster tail tempura. 

“Most Japanese restaurants give you an order of tempura that may have some vegetables you don’t like,” Ferdian says. “But, we give you four pieces of zucchini or broccoli or whatever vegetables you like, for only $2.95 per order. At Zukku-San, you pick only the tempura items you want.” 

There’s even “Chef’s Features” available, like a tender bluefin tuna appetizer, topped with caviar. Ferdian says that the bluefin appetizer is likely to become a regular menu item in the future, but Gia says other “Chef’s Features” also are coming soon.

There also are soups and salads available as starters, but other than the ginger salad that comes with the entrées, Jannah and I haven’t sampled any of them…yet. 

From The Wok & Grill

Just in case you’re still hungry for more than just appetizers, Zukku-San offers mine and Jannah’s favorite chicken teriyaki (above), which is served with those aforementioned sautéed veggies. Also available are dinner portions of those tender, delicious grilled short ribs, plus items we haven’t tried yet, like soy butter glazed baked salmon, miso garlic scallops or tofu, and wok-fired hibachi and udon noodle dishes, all with your choice of protein, or just with veggies.

But, it’s really hard for us to ever pass up the Japanese-style fried rice, which is jasmine rice with egg, peas, carrots and onions and available with chicken, beef, shrimp or fried tofu protein options, but our favorite is the veggie fried rice, which adds red peppers, broccoli, zucchini and amazing baby bok choy. The rice has a nutty flavor that is hard to match. 

Zukku-San also has a kids menu, but while the items aren’t cheap, the portions seem adult-sized to us. There’s also a variety of desserts, from triple chocolate cake to matcha green tea cheesecake, fried ice cream and more, but we’ve honestly never had room left over for dessert. There’s also a variety of hot and iced teas, as well as boba milk tea, but Jannah usually gets a wine or hot saki and I usually have either an Asahi Dry or Sapporo beer, or a whiskey. 

Zukku-San Sushi Bar & Grill (25916 Sierra Center Blvd., Lutz) opens every day at 11 and is open until 9:30 on weekdays, 10 p.m. on Fri. & Sat. & 9 p.m. on Sun. For more information, visit ZukkuSushi.com, call (813) 419-1351.

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