Nao and Zen, Now and Then

Contributing Writer
Bayan Atari

Perhaps in an attempt to keep up with the Asian-fusion competition that is Panda Express, or maybe for some more elusive reason, Nao and Zen has totally overhauled its menu. Located in the Student Commons, Nao and Zen is a convenient option for students with dining plans.

In my freshman year, Nao and Zen was a nice alternative to the limited options offered by other campus eateries for vegetarians. Being a vegetarian in a dorm with no kitchen can get monotonous, especially if you don’t have extra money to eat food that can’t be bought with swipes or you don’t want to eat Shafer’s french fries and unseasoned tofu all the time. So despite its mediocrity, I appreciated Nao and Zen.

What about now? I went to the Commons to find out, I was pleasantly surprised. In the past Nao and Zen served customizable bowls of rice or noodles with vegetables and some sort of protein on top. Now it specializes in ramen and “makiritos”, as well as bubble tea. The makirito, which is known to some students as a sushi-rito, is exactly what it sounds like: sushi in the shape of a burrito. Is it authentic? No. But is it less mediocre than the Nao and Zen of last year? Definitely.

The veggie makirito is supposed to be customizable, or at least, that’s what the menu on the CampusDish website said; but the one I was given had been pre-made, which might have been a result of lackluster service on the part of the cashier that handed it to me – not that I blame him for not wanting to do extra work. I can only imagine what it’s like to serve so many college students every day. Regardless of the sub-par service, the food was decent.

The sushi-burrito hybrid was wrapped in a thin layer of nori, a thin crunchy seaweed in some Japanese food, with a layer of rice. It’s hard to mess that up. The vegetables inside were fresher than expected; anyone who has been to Croutons or Shafer enough knows that VCU dining isn’t the best when it comes to serving vegetables that aren’t wilting. The sweet potato and eggplant added some pleasant balance to the saltiness of the nori, while the small avocado slices inside added a hint of savory flavor. Most shocking of all, the sweet potato wasn’t too mushy and the avocado wasn’t turning brown. I clearly do not expect much from VCU dining food.

The makiritos and ramen are available for a swipe, but the price in actual money/dining dollars is a bit high for the quality of the food; I spent about in dining dollars on a makirito and a fountain drink. As for the atmosphere, what could I say? It’s the Commons: a quick, easy place to pick up some food between classes. For that purpose, Nao and Zen is certainly a better than the other choices covered by the dining plan.

All in all, Nao and Zen is still nothing to write home about, but it’s a step up from its previous incarnation. Last year’s Nao and Zen could be described as mid-tier mediocrity, while this year’s is at a slightly higher level of mid-tier mediocrity. I haven’t tried the ramen yet, but I’ve heard good things, and it certainly does look decent. I’m excited about having bubble tea available through VCU dining as well, though I haven’t tried that yet, either.

Preview
Smokers: Second Class Citizens

Smokers: Second Class Citizens Smokers: Second Class CitizensOpinion by Connor Campbell (Proud Smoker)There once was a time where one could sit at the bar, have a beer and enjoy a cigarette.One wasn’t forced to walk out in the rain and cold to have a smoke. One was able to enjoy the same comforts of an establishment as the rest o...

Bleeker Street, Snead’s own sandwich shop

Bleeker Street, Snead’s own sandwich shop A business student favorite, considering it’s in Snead hall. Sandwiches are very popular, as are their salads. They offer something easy for students to eat while they work or during class, which is perfect for VCU’s own business building. It’s good food.OPTIONSSandwiches on various t...

The Daily – Fresh Food and a Chic Setting

The Daily – Fresh Food and a Chic Setting Taylor ThornbergContributing WriterWhen The Daily first opened in Carytown last summer, I often passed by and was drawn to its amazingly chic décor and lovely patio that gave a view of the well-decorated restaurant. The look of it gave me high hopes for the newest addition to a strip of restaura...

Whisk’ed Away

Whisk’ed Away via Elena CorreaIf you ever find yourself in Shockoe Bottom, do yourself a favor and check out Whisk. If you’re into breakfast croissants, lattes, macarons, or even bread pudding, you won’t be disappointed. The shop is deliciously cute, from the black and white tiled floor to the glowing glass display of kawaii colore...