Foodie Fans of The Worley Gig know that one of our very favorite dining destinations is the Asian-Latin fusion restaurant, Zengo, conveniently located adjacent to Grand Central Station. While the menu is consistently delicious, Zengo is dedicated to continually changing things up. And in this case, change is good!
Every few months, Chef Richard Sandoval and his culinary team at Zengo research and develop new recipes featuring the cuisine and spirits of one Latin and one Asian country. The result is a menu of specialty plates and cocktails that showcase the flavors and techniques from each region. The featured new dishes are marked with a special “TK” symbol on the menu, noting that they are exclusive and available for a limited time. The current “Test Kitchen” menu, unveiled at Zengo in January, is dubbed “Japan to Mexico,” for which Chef Sandoval drew inspiration from the rich and flavorful street foods of Japan and Mexico to create the new Test Kitchen menu.
Recently we were invited to enjoy a Tasting of the Japan to Mexico Test Kitchen Menu and were wowed once again by the Chef’s finely honed skill at blending and accenting the flavors of these two distinct cuisines. Here’s a review of what we ate:
It’s always fun to start off a meal with a potent and refreshing cocktail and Zengo features two new ones for Japan to Mexico. The Calamansi Old-Fashioned is made with Japanese whiskey, fresh Calamansi juice (similar to Orange Juice) and Agave Bitters. Surprisingly, this tastes like a fresh Blood Orange cocktail with no overpowering Whiskey taste and not one hint of bitterness. Delicious!
Also on the cocktail menus is the Shiro Margarita blending Nigori Saki with 100% Agave Blanco Tequila, fresh lime juice, simple syrup and house-made sour mix. The Shiro Margarita is light and tart and will brighten the taste of whatever you are eating. These go down very smooth!
Next up on our selection of TK small plates was the outstanding Octopus Aguachile Tiradito: an unbelievably tender Octopus carpaccio flavored with Ginger Green Chile broth and White Soy, tossed with crisp Asian Pear and luscious, ripe Avocado and garnished with sprinkling of Nori and Sesame Seeds. This was the most delicious and visually appealing presentation of Octopus I have yet tried — and that includes the Octopus and Chickpea Salad at MP Taverna, which is just insane.
Zengo is famous for its excellent sushi and vegetarian maki rolls and they’ve come up with another excellent offering in the Achiote Shrimp Tempura Roll – a Tempura Fried Shrimp with Avocado, Jicama Chile Lemon, Charred Scallion and dressed with a light Chile Toreado Aioli. I enjoyed dipping pieces of this roll in the dressing from the Octopus dish!
Elevating Mexican Street Food are the Terikayi Pork Belly Gorditas “Sliders” – Fried Pork Belly with a sweet Teriyaki glaze, nested on a crispy Masa cake “Bun” with Oaxaca cheese, Guacamole, Caramelized Pineapple and Pickled Chiles for just a little bit of heat. If you’re a Bacon fan who’s looking to try something new and different, you’ll want to give this a try.
In the realm of hearty entrees, Zengo adds the Kabayaki Glazed Lamb Shank Barbacoa – fork-tender lamb marinated in a Ginger, Chiles and Tamarind glaze, served atop a bed of fragrant Arroz Verde and garnished with tender-crisp Pickled Carrots. The bones in this look intimidating, but the meat literally just falls away as soon as you prod it a bit with your fork. I loved the contrast of textures and flavors in this delightful dish.
And last but not least we sampled an unusual take on a traditional dessert, the Avocado Panna Cotta – Fresh Avocado Custard, served with tangy-sweet Tropical Fruit Salad and garnished an added crunch of Chocolate Cookie Crumbs. The mildly sweet true-Avocado taste of the Panna Cotta gets a kick from the chopped fruit and syrup accompaniment and the unexpected crunch of the cookie morsels add a fun texture to this not-overly-sweet ending to a fine meal.
Please note that all food photos in this post are representative of a group tasting presentation and expect the dish may look somewhat different when ordered for just one person.
Zengo is located at 622 Third Avenue (at the corner of 40th Street). Dinner is served Monday through Saturday from 5:00 PM onward. Lunch is served Monday – Friday from 11:30 AM -2:30 PM. For reservations, please call 212-808-8110 or visit their website at This Link. The Mexico-Japan menu is featured through March 31st, 2013 at all Zengo locations including New York City, Denver, Santa Monica and Washington D.C.