The newly redeveloped Santa Monica Place Mall at the foot of the Third Street Promenade has been spectacularly redone - if you like that sort of thing. It's a massive, multi-level City-Walk like experience - far too crowded and sensually overloading for my taste. But should you venture to the top, where the high end restaurants are located, Zengo will transcend any and all shopping mall misgivings.
Zengo is the latest iteration of a chain that was started by Richard Sandoval , a very gifted chef-visionary in Denver. The cuisine is Asian-Latino fusion, which often can be spotty and inconsistent - great dishes alongside mediocre ones. Zengo here, and I presume in their other locations in NYC, Washington DC, Denver and others, is simply amazing. It's a huge 300 seat place serving a vast and varied menu - yet every dish - and every taste component of the mostly multi-flavored dishes was spectacular.
Four of us had what we all considered one of the greatest meals of our lives. Considering that the chain's major investor is tenor and conductor Placido Domingo, I can't resist calling the sublime mixture of tastes and textures utterly symphonic in its power and elucidation. We felt, at the end, like we should be standing, yelling "Bravisimo" at Sandoval and his staff.
The dining motif is small, rather expensive, perfectly prepared plates combining Asian and Latino elements, served to be shared - the name is a Japanese concept of give and take. And believe me, the food was so wonderful we were tempted to grab dishes from other tables.
. For example, they offer tiny Peking duck tacos and a sort of Carnitas Pad Thai. A plate of black cod was simply Asian, yet as silky and mesmerizing as anything at LeBernardin. It was quite honestly the best piece of fish I've ever eaten in my life - after ordering one, we simply HAD to order another.
Sometimes the "branding" of dishes as fusion was a bit fanciful - the Churrasco Argentine skirt steak, marinated in chimichurri and topped with a chipotle dressing was wonderful- BOTH bites of it. Yes, the portions are that small - especially by Argentine standards. But it was accompanied by tempura onion rings so goooood, no great, that we ordered a side dish of same. If there's a Chowhound thread for best onion rings ( I recall that there is) these should be at the top of the list.
Sandoval's imagination is remarkable - a Hot and Sour Egg Drop soup with Foie Gras filled wontons could have been sheer idiocy in other hands. Instead, it was sheer delight - the lightest, most feathery wontons ever in a broth that only nodded to its namesakes, yet was nonetheless delicious.
For desert we had a lemony angel food cake in a mango glaze, a Mexican chocolate mousse cake with chocolate cracklings and a sublime Panna Cotta. Our friends, who spend a month in Italy every year, pronounced the panna cotta the best they've ever had in America.
We finished off the evening with some 68 year old Tequila, so smooth it put single malt scotches to shame.
I wish I was a better food writer - I simply can't do justice to the ingredients and preparation. But I can say, if you can tolerate miniscule portions of incredible food at fairly expensive prices, in a big, noisy but exciting place, hurry over to Zengo. Dinner for four (we gorged ourselves) was around $350.00 including margaritas and tip. The service was flawless and wonderfully cheerful. By the way, four or six people would seem to be optimal for the food sharing experience. But Zengo is truly something special. Bravo!.
622 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10016
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