Leggo my Zengo

Once again Maverick Monday (MM) was upon us and, yay for our wallets, it was still Restaurant Week. My fellow maverick and I took a departure from our usual Lower East Side exploration and decided to try Zengo, located in the Midtown East area of Manhattan. The restaurant’s website billed Zengo as “an artful blend of Latin-Asian styles and flavors. Chef-Owner Richard Sandoval, whose accolades include Bon Appétit Restaurateur of the Year and Mexico’s Toque d’Oro, spins regional ingredients into beautifully balanced dishes designed for sharing.” Upon looking at the menu, the claim seemed true enough and had our interest peaked. However, with such a beefy pedigree, I was hoping Richy Rich wouldn’t disappoint us, as so often happens in venues such as this (see my last MM review for The General to see what I mean). Not a huge fan of fusion cuisines, my expectations were set to “average;” I’m quite guilty of getting my hopes up very high when it comes to trying new restaurants, only to have those hopes dashed in extreme anti-climaxes. I prepared myself this time, expecting the worst and hoping for the best, yet confident that good conversation and company would see me through the night no matter the quality of the food.

Upon entry, the décor did not disappoint. Distressed wood, steel, dramatic staircases, black walls and glass; high ceilings, a marble lit-from-within drinks bar, and Asian antique reproductions were all softened by sprigs of cherry blossom throughout the restaurant and upstairs bar, La Biblioteca.

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After we made our way to our leather, semi-circular booth in the middle of the room, an initial perusal of the Restaurant Week menu didn’t disappoint either. Once our drinks arrived, we ordered the following mouth-watering dishes from the 3-course menu:

Me                              
Salmon Ceviche
Tagalog Style Churrasco Steak
Arroz con Leche (Rice Pudding) 
Marissa
Thai Coconut Chicken Soup
Chipotle Miso Glazed Back Cod
Tropical Fruit Sorbets
Us
Bok Choy Kimchee

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The rundown: ceviche was good, but too much radish and not enough fish; the steak was perfect in every way—I’d go back just for this dish, it was that delicious (so were the accompanying sweet potato tostones); the rice pudding was served warm and, to my delight, the rice wasn’t hard like I’ve found at so many other places. Also, the Chinese almond cookies on the side were a nice touch and smart way to apply the fusion theme. The one detractor from the meal was the bok choy kimchee—can you say salt lick?! Even as I write this, my mouth is puckering. I asked Marissa if she felt the same way when she took a bite, just to make sure I wasn’t being overly sensitive because I don’t like a lot of salt on my food. She agreed 100% and confirmed that this dish felt like someone just poured salt in our mouths. I took a bite from each of her dishes and enjoyed them all as well. The soup was smooth and delicate, the cod was flaky and perfectly seasoned, and her sorbets were refreshing and mild. Overall, this meal was a success. Kudos, Chef Sandoval! The Mavericks will be back for more in the not too distant future (read: when our wallets allow us to order from the regular, high-priced menu and we’re too lazy to travel south or north).

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