Restaurateur Richard Sandoval's thirteen-year old Zengo was cutting-edge when it opened at 1610 Little Raven Street in 2003, and still retained a swank, neo-’70s air into 2016, despite its relative age. But stagnation equals death in the hip downtown restaurant scene, so Sandoval shut down the Latin-Asian fusion eatery last month for a facelift and menu upgrade. The result, which will be unveiled to the public on Monday, October 10, is a roster of almost entirely Asian offerings served in a dark, clubby space that trades in some of the old color scheme (retro burnt orange and avocado green, for example) for something a little more urban and industrial.
The changes to the decor aren't exactly monumental; there's still plenty of warm wood paneling near the entrance and surrounding the long, curved bar (which remains the same), and seating areas are still divided among a low-slung front lounge overlooking the plaza outside, the elegant bar and three dining areas. But there's also a new sushi bar and wrought-iron cages (intended to evoke a birdcage) that separate the dining areas. Polished concrete floors laced with miniature rivers of gold bounce the ambient sound of house music and conversation throughout the space.
On the menu, overseen by new executive chef Robert “BJ” Wojtowicz (whose credits include 11 Madison Park, the French Laundry and Restaurant Kevin Taylor), very little of Sandoval's Mexican heritage can be found; duck confit comes wrapped in a "Maseca pancake" with chipotle barbecue sauce, and rare wagyu beef topped with jalapeño is labeled as a "tiradito," even if it's anointed with truffled ponzu.
Other than that, the remainder represents a culinary tour of Asia, with Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Indian influences showing in sections divided into sushi and sashimi, dim sum, curry, wok and tempura, among others. Those sections encompass mostly traditional dishes (char siu pork buns, Szechuan beef, green curry with chicken, for example), while the cold bites, hot bites and grill sections range farther afield and combine unusual ingredients and culinary techniques. So there's a straightforward Thai chicken, beef or prawn sate and tom yum soup, but Japanese chicken karaage comes with Korean chili sauce, and a beef tenderloin goes international with parsnip-coconut purée, foie gras and truffle mirin sauce.
In other words, it's exactly what we expect from the globe-trotting Sandoval — and if we're craving the chef's Mexican creations, we can always head a few blocks into downtown for an evening at Tamayo.
Dinner will be served daily from 4 to 11 p.m., with happy hour 4 to 7 p.m. on weeknights only. The kitchen will pick up Saturday and Sunday brunch service again in late October.
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