New Yorkers, ever accustomed to change and development, may be skeptical about the new neighborhood known as Manhattan West. But the meticulously manicured blocks, stretching from 31st and 33rd Streets between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, have housed some of Manhattan’s most tantalizing dining destinations since debuting in 2021—Zou Zou’s is one such standout spot.
Led by executive chef Madeline Sperling and sous chef Juliana Latif, who came from The NoMad Restaurant, which shuttered during the pandemic, Zou Zou’s offers technique-driven Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes with French flair and a bit—okay, a lot—of fun. The menu here is also inspired by a strong connection to New York City and the joy of dining together.
At lunch, diners fill the outdoor wicker chairs and the sprawling interiors. The latter is a blue-tiled expanse, decked with plants, rust-colored velour banquettes, and mirrored walls that amplify daylight.
Afternoon highlights include artfully plated mezze dips—green tahini is crowned with bubbling aquafaba foam; hummus is marbled with black garlic—and house-baked breads. A daytime drinks menu features fresh mint iced tea and cocktails, such as a sumac spritz, to complement dishes like a grilled branzino filet with chermoula, shiso, and grilled escarole.
For individualists, there are lunchtime salads that shift with the seasons, plus small plates, such as crisp meat-stuffed manti. But the prolific menu is far too tempting not to share.
At dinner, Zou Zou’s dims the lights, turning the already festive atmosphere into a bonafide culinary production. It’s the perfect setting to tear into Sperling’s most buzzworthy dish: Zou Zou’s duck borek. The nearly hypnotizing pastry spiral is stuffed with duck, glazed with a sweet and sour orange sauce, and sprinkled with crushed pistachios for the final flourish.
The restaurant’s performative plates also include Kasseri cheese, set aflame at the table and fattoush, which arrives with a crisp pita top ready to crack with a golden spoon. Grape leaf sea bass is served on a gameboard-sized aquamarine platter, then unwrapped from its delicate layers. For dessert, there are tart, creamy, and savory delights, though the exceedingly intricate kataifi cheesecake, a phyllo-layered marvel that channels both the Middle East and New York City, may be the ultimate showstopper.
“Dining should be fun, memorable, and special,” Sperling says of her desire to add a dash of drama to Zou Zou’s offerings. “We want to seriously show people a good time.”
As Zou Zou’s menu evolves, Sperling looks forward to more flavors and traditions to riff on. “The menu is free form; it changes,” she says. She’s currently developing a dish that takes cues from corn grits, a staple in her North Carolina hometown. She’s also inspired by views from the open kitchen, where she can see guests engaging with their meals. Thankfully, New Yorkers are back to having fun again—and Zou Zou’s is the ultimate setting for it.