Sunday, January 3, 2010


Have you looked far and wide for a restaurant that blends Latin and Asian flavors? Zengo has you covered.

Sound weird? Somehow, at Zengo, it just works.

While some might roll their eyes at yet another take on the over-done Asian fusion concept, we think Zengo deserves a try for its innovative flavors. Zengo means "give and take" in Japanese. Appropriately, the concept is tapas-style small plates that are meant to be shared. The kitchen works on a sort of free-flowing basis, so plates stream out when they're ready, instead of in a set order. We got our first real taste of Zengo when we took a sushi and margarita making class there a few years ago. It was an incredible experience (helped along with all you can drink margaritas) and taught us to appreciate Zengo's commitment to fun and fresh food.

Zengo is located on 7th Street next to Gallery Place in a hip, two-story space with interesting (if not strange) modern art pieces decorating the walls and ceiling. Bring your outside voice with you, because Zengo can get loud during peak hours.

We recommend starting with the XO Style edamame that is served almost bbq-style (the cooking technique, not the sauce) with salt and something that (according to the menu) makes it "non-vegetarian." Speaking of vegetarians, I think it's nice that Zengo has a special vegetarian menu and listing of gluten-free selections on its website. I dined there once with someone with a gluten allergy and they were completely accommodating.

On this trip we started with the yellowtail ceviche (yellowtail, aji amarillo chiles, red onion, cucumber, apple).

At our sushi class we learned how to make their signature Angry Zengo Roll which we highly recommend. However, we tried something new this time, and opted for the Volcano Roll (blue crab, salmon, jalapeno aioli). Holy jalapenos Batman, that was tasty!

To add some greens to the meal we ordered the Give 'N Take Chicken Salad (pulled chicken, candied pecans, mandarin oranges, cabbage, piloncillo-ginger vinaigrette). Maybe the most fattening salad around, but so good.

May I also suggest a little pocket of wonderful known as the Thai Chicken Empanadas (chicken empanadas stuffed with chile poblano, Oaxaca cheese, and topped with mango-curry salsa served on a bed of spicy peanut sauce).

Last, but certainly not least, are the Charred Tuna Wonton Tacos (sushi rice, mango salsa, and tuna stuffed into a crispy wonton shell and served over a generous helping of fresh guacamole). It's almost like a tuna roll and a mini taco had cute little sushi taco babies. I could make a meal out of these tacos alone.

While I really enjoy the food at Zengo, the service can be hit or miss. Once we dined there with a friend who doesn't eat red meat and the waiter sarcastically dubbed him "Chicken Little." While we like to joke around, this waiter was pretty annoying. It's ok though, because Zengo taught us about "give and take." With each snarky comment he continued to "give", we opted to "take" away from his tip.

Second Thoughts From B

I distinctly remember the first time I learned about the concept of latin-asian fusion. At the time, and even now, it is not the most obvious of marriages. But the more I think about it, and the more I taste successful examples of this seemingly odd combination, the more I appreciate it. I've found that the biggest challenge and the biggest reward comes with finding the perfect mixture. Rather than have a Mexican dish with a hint of China or sushi with a taste of South America, balancing the two influences to create an entirely new flavor can be really wonderful. When achieved, the experience is new and surprising, while also being strangely familiar.

Of all the places we've been to that have tried to fuse latin and asian food, Zengo seems to do it most seamlessly. As J pointed out in her description above, the empanadas and tacos alone make a visit worth while. This is not to say that every dish is as successful from a fusion point of view. At times, you really have to scratch your head and take a second glance at the menu to determine what element has been fused.

Balanced or not, from a purely taste point of view, Zengo succeeds with almost every dish. Of note, their sushi rolls are delicious and creative. Pretty much across the board, we've found the flavors to be as loud as the dining room, and for that, your taste buds (but perhaps not your eardrums) will thank you.
Zengo on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

blunoz said...

Jeez, I had never even thought of blending Latin and Asian flavors before. The concept sounded odd to me at first, but those specific examples you showed us sound absolutely fantastic! (Reminds me of when I was a little kid and my dad made us chow mein burritos for dinner actually...)