Dozo does Asian with flavor, flare

The red Chinese characters on the faux cloth walls inside Dozo’s entrance recount tales of Malaysian warriors, an odd contrast given that the restaurant has a distinctly peaceful ambiance. When asked, the waitress will hasten to explain that the warrior stories serve as Dozo’s mission statement: “We are new at this business, and we want to be at the forefront of the battle.”

With this spirit, Dozo restaurant is off to a fighting start. After opening Oct. 3, the new eatery has become an overnight local sensation despite its location in a so-called “sketchy” part of New Haven on Whalley Avenue, just past Popeye’s and across from Rite Aid.

Operated by the same family that owns Miso on Orange Street, Dozo fills a previously overlooked niche in the New Haven food scene by providing East Asian cuisine in hearty portions at student-friendly prices. With more food per plate than Samurai and more authentic cuisine than Ivy Noodle, Dozo provides Yalies with a cheaper, more accessible alternative to Miso.

The gyoza pan-fried pork dumplings are served five to a plate, arranged symmetrically around a ginger and wasabi centerpiece. Each dumpling is half pan-fried, half steamed, giving the perfect combination of soft and crunchy for a multi-textured experience. The chow kue teo, a noodle plate featuring pan-battered shrimp, soy-soaked pork strips, fish cake, steamed bean sprouts, chives and scallion, is savory and works well as a non-spicy contrast to the house specialty Dozo roll.

Wrapped in moist green sushi, the Dozo roll is cut into two-and-a-half inch diameter slices and filled with tempura lobster tails and cucumber. Each piece is garnished with chopped mango squares seasoned with exotic Indian herbs and garlic mayonnaise. The pieces are difficult to eat in one bite, but the taste and size definitely make it worth trying.

The dessert menu is more traditional and includes favorites such as tempura ice cream and various chocolate plates. But the ice cream is what distinguishes the desserts at Dozo from the rest. A warm molten chocolate lava brownie would typically be topped with plain vanilla ice cream, but at Dozo the chef opts for the more traditional Asian green tea ice cream and red bean ice cream.

Dozo’s wait staff is friendly and quick to assist patrons, whether by refilling drinks, clearing tables or providing menu recommendations. At many great restaurants, you know the service is good because you barely notice it, but at Dozo silent service is executed to perfection.

The decor is minimalist, with bare, light green-tinted walls and a ceiling supported by dark cherry varnished wood trunks. Rolled-up straw placemats contain printed menus inside, tightly wound up like ancient scrolls. To the right of the tables is the sushi bar where chef Lin Wong and his sous chefs concoct the unique Malaysian flavors Dozo offers. A white wall divides the dining area from the dark wood-paneled bar on the other side of the restaurant.

At $12 apiece, Dozo’s set price lunch boxes — including a sushi roll and noodle plate — are an ideal first taste of what the eatery has to offer. Any Yalie who values good cuisine should go out of their way to visit this distinctive restaurant and experience its native flavor.

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