Restaurant: Zengo [1, 2, 3]
Location: 395 Santa Monica Place, b/w Broadway & Colorado, Santa Monica, CA 90401. Tel. 310.899.1000
Date: February 4, 2011
Cuisine: Latin-Asian Fusion
Rating: Color me confused — It’s in a mall, and it’s pretty good.
With the Santa Monica place facelift — actually more of a rooflift — the powers that be have installed 4-5 new restaurants on the top floor. Now, I’m not much for mall restaurants, but I’ve tried two and they were pretty good. These places live in a kind of hybrid space between chain and “one off restaurant.” I’m not a big fan of chains either, but I guess those big mall landlords don’t like to risk their profitable leases on companies that can go belly up on the drop of a plate.
Second, the locations are pretty sweet. The new mall is basically the old mall (3 stories) with the lid ripped off, and it’s pretty cool given the proximity of the Pacific and the scenic view down the 3rd Street Promenade. These are big places and they have cool heated patios with great views.
The concepts are also hybrids, Americanized fusions of popular international styles. Zengo bills itself as Asian-Latin fusion. Which I guess it is. I also have a review of the Modern Chinese / Dim sum, Xino.
Zengo seemed a trendy spot, and the warm February night put me in a cocktail mode, the drink menu above. Official version.
“Pomelo Mezcal Margarita, mezcal / fresh pomelo / citrus / grapefruit bitters.” Tasty, a bit bitter though.
“Tamarind-Togarashi Margarita, silver tequila / tamarind / citrus / togarashi salt.” Very interesting drink, tangy, and a tad spicy — but good.
Above is the special Dine LA menu, but the regular one can be found here. Another nice thing about this place is it’s more or less all tapas-style, small dishes for everyone to share. This is one of my favorite formats because I’m a flavor whore, the more the better.
“VEGETARIANO ROLL.” Sort of a california roll minus the crab.
“Hot & Sour Egg Drop Soup, Foie Gras Pork Dumplings, Enoki, Green Onion.” Also tasty. Sort of like classic hot and sour with meaty livery wontons.
“Thai Shrimp Lettuce Wraps, Chorizo, Peanut, Cilantro, Tamarind Chutney.” Another hybrid Americanized dish — but again good. The shrimp were nicely stir fried with that crispy crunch of good chinese fry. Strong zesty flavors, with a lot of tang in the sauce.
“Chipotle Miso Glazed Black Cod, Daikon Radish, Lemon-Togarashi Aioli.” A variant of the Miso Black Cod pioneered at Matsuhisa (REVIEW HERE). This one has a lot more flavors going on. Not only the sweet, but tangy and the richness of aioli.
“Grilled Beef Short Ribs, Manchego Cheese Potato Puree, Hoisin Adobo Sauce, Huitlacoche.” Rich dark short ribs, the polenta like potato, with a bit of cheesiness, and the sweetness of the Hoisin Adobo. Not bad.
“Mexican Chocolate Tart, Cocoa Nibs, Cinnamon, Whipped Cream, Chili Ancho Anglaise.” A nice blend of dry chocolate and cinnamon, the chili anglaise was good too. Combined it did make one think of spiced frothy Aztec drink.
This is not a subtle cuisine, but I’m not complaining either. The nuevo latino vibe is very strong, owing a lot to something like Rivera downtown (I have a meal worth of photos I need to write up one of these days). But more commercial. The Asian part borrows from every conceivable international pan-Asian dish. It’s not totally ground breaking food — and as I said very commercial — but what I tasted was very well done, and the patio and view really didn’t suck. So given the caveat of my distaste of malls and corporate restaurants, I deliver a tentative thumbs up.