Thursday, January 24, 2013

Zengo: Latin-Asian Fusion That Fascinates

By: Anne M. Raso

Richard Sandoval, former winner of Bon Appetit Chef Of The Year, opened midtown eatery Zengo in the hopes of putting a whole new spin on Latin-Asian Fusion cuisine. His concept is unique: have a lot of “test kitchen” items on the menu, judge how well they are doing, make them permanent and then start a whole new round of dishes for customers to try. Also unique is the fact that Sandoval matches up two different Latin and Asian cuisines for each quarter of the year. So you might be there one time and Sandoval and staff will be mixing Cuban and Chinese, and the next season, Mexican and Japanese. On our visit, the combo was Filipino and Argentinian and wow, it was indeed a match made in foodie heaven—if you want to try it for yourself, it will be at Zengo through March 31st!
Upon entering the restaurant, I immediately loved the gorgeous hacienda-inspired interior design, which includes giant wrought iron gates over the windows that look as if they came off a Spanish castle. There is lots of dark wood, included suspended planks from the ceiling, but Zengo still manages to somehow have a light, airy and modern feeling.
Vegetariano Sushi Roll 
I tried the Vegetariano Sushi Roll ($10) first and it is made of soy paper filled with top grade Jasmine rice and boosts a flavorful center of asparagus-scallion tempura with avocado spritzed with a bit of Sambal aioli. All fruits and vegetables used in Zengo’s dishes are organic, and the asparagus in this sushi roll was uber tender and flavorful.
TK Oxtail Humitas
I moved on to the Dim Sum & Antojitos section of the menu next and ordered Thai Chicken Empanadas ($12) and TK Oxtail Humitas ($14). The Thai Chicken Empanadas were tender and juicy with the outer shell being thick but not chewy and cooked to golden perfection. These empanadas are filled with organic shredded chicken, chile Poblano and Oaxaca cheese and are topped with deliciously refreshing mango-curry salsa. One serving is three large empanadas and it is almost the size of an entrée. The TK Oxtail Humitas was really a plate of deconstructed tamales. Tender shreds of oxtail were laid halfway into a demi glace sauce and halfway into a peanut sauce and topped with deep-fried masa that is called “Argentinian tamal” on the menu. (And you are on the right track if you think that the TK stands for “test kitchen”—all the items being tested for popularity level are indeed marked this way!)
TK Bacolod Filipino BBQ Chicken
My chosen entrees were TK Bacolod Filipino BBQ Chicken ($25) and Palomilla Lomo Saltado ($32) For the Bacolod BBQ Chicken, organic breast meat is marinaded in a lemongrass and chile based sauce, barbecued and then put on a bed of coconut rice and topped with pickled tropical fruit. The dish is outlined with round drops of chimichurri sauce making for a beautiful presentation, not just a succulent taste sensation. The Palomilla Lomo Saltado is a delicious grass-fed Colorado beef tenderloin dish which features about eight ounces of meat sliced about ½ inch thick with lightly sautéed peppers and onions in cognac pepper sauce. On the side of delicious “steak size” Yucca fries which are moist but not oily in anyway.
Palomilla Lomo Saltado
I rounded out my meal with TK Dulche De Leche ($9) which is actually a yellow cake rolled up like a jelly roll but filled with a delicious chewy dulche de leche and frosted with vanilla buttercream. The cake was lying on top of mango ceviche (a type of pickled mango) and lemon grass granita. It was a truly unique dessert and seemed to be beyond the realm of just Filipino and Argentinian cuisines—it seems to bring together a little Modern American and Mexican into the mix. Run, don’t walk to Zengo for this dessert. It’s that rare blend of creamy and refreshing!
TK Dulche De Leche
I would definitely go back to Zengo—the menu is ever changing and the service is spectacular. The wait staff seems to know every little nuance of each dish and where all the ingredients came from. It’s hard to come up with a unique concept for a New York eatery, but owner Sandoval has done it with Zengo!

622 3rd Ave
New York, NY 10017
(212) 808-8110

Zengo on Urbanspoon

Photos: Anne Raso

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