There are so many amazing food experiences to be had in New York, and no we’re not talking about the tourist restaurants, we’re talking the hidden gems that you may walk by every day which boasts delicacies so delicious, it’s almost too sinful to enjoy…..almost. We had the pleasure of being introduced to Zengo Restaurant, an amazing food oasis located not too far from restaurant row and trust us when we say you’d definitely want to stray from the beaten path of restaurant row to delight in this foodie’s dream.
First things first, the exterior of Zengo Restaurant does not do the inside justice…..at all (you’ll see what we mean at the end of this post). You can have a separate adventure on each of its three floors. For our culinary journey, we were on the main floor, which features the Latin-Asian food and drink menu (the lower level, the La Biblioteca de Tequila Lounge, is all Latin and boasts over 400 Tequilas, and the upper, Asian level features an impressive variety of Japanese sakes, but today we were to indulge in the delicious results of combining these two wonderful bold flavors.
WATERMELON SOJU MARGARITA
David: With this drink in the Biblioteca Tequila bar,located downstairs at Zengo Restaurant, you get the unmistakable freshness of the watermelon that is cut with the starchy punch of the soju then infused with the lively tart punch of a margarita. Nice layers of flavor for a well-blended drink.
David: This was like a perfect spiked ginger beer. The fresh ginger and lemon with the cloying honey made for a great fresh and sweet that married nicely with the spicy bourbon whiskey and the pop of the apricot brandy. A sneaky drink to enjoy and not even realize you’re 3 in before it hits you.
TROPICAL WHITE SANGRIA
Glasgow: This white sangria was a refreshing mix of Macabeo white wine grape, rum, mango, orange, passionfruit, and pineapple. Fair warning, the lightly sweet drink goes down pretty quickly and smoothly, so expect to order more than one. I paired this delightful cocktail with our second appetizer and it really celebrated the spicy elements of the dish.
ACHIOTE HOISIN PORK AREPAS – 1ST APPETIZER
David: This was highbrow Mexican street food with a dash of the Far East. It’s such a nice blend of the zesty hoisin pork on top of the rustic corn arepa. The creamy sour cream and fresh guacamole added a smoothness to the earthy flavors of the corn cake and the pork.
Glasgow: This was my first experience with Arepas and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but you can’t go wrong with crunchy corn cakes topped with the sweet and salty taste of Hoisin pulled pork. I loved the contrast of the cooling freshness of the crema Fresca and avocado against the spicy pull pork flavors and crunchy corn cake.
SLOW COOKED PORK RIBS – 2ND APPETIZER
David: These ribs were so tender and savory with a sugary pop of spice while the cucumber kimchee added a fresh element of garden heat. The great flavor profile came from how each element was finished with the sweet smokiness to the pork and the tart heat to the cucumbers.
Glasgow: Talk about succulent and slow cooked to perfection. These juicy ribs slid off the bone with ease and were so flavorful, we considered placing another order. The sweetness of the roasted garlic chipotle glaze reminded me of sweet-style barbecue, and the spicy cucumber pickle added such a wonderful level of heat and flavor intensity, I found myself mixing the cucumbers into the glaze…yum.
SPICY LUMP CRAB GUACAMOLE – 3RD APPETIZER
David: This dish was just easy textural loveliness. Fresh generous crab married with a chunky creamy guacamole served with thin tortillas. You got layers of meaty briny, garden savory creamy and rustic salty for a satisfying harmonious dish.
Glasgow: I am officially spoiled, thank you Zengo restaurant. From now on, I want all my guacamole to be topped with fresh crabmeat. If you’re looking for flavorful guacamole (ginger, yuzu, cilantro, and Thai basil bring zest and peppery flavors) with an element of fresh seafood (you can practically taste the ocean…..that’s how fresh the crabmeat tasted), you must try it. The thin, crisp tortilla chips allow the crab and guac to shine without distraction. You’ll never want ordinary guac ever again.
David: What a delightful strawberry lemonade mojito on full blast. The powerfully smooth Blanco tequila met up with mojito nods like mint and citrus then mellowed out with this kick of agave nectar. This is another great sneaky drink that’ll send you into alcohol heaven without you even realizing.
Glasgow: Not many people like the tart and sometimes sweet taste of tamarind but I definitely do. This cocktail was an easy sell for me and is a wonderful drink for anyone who loves exotic flavors. The hint of citrus adds a fresh zing to the already delicious cocktail. I loved the smooth, clean taste of this cocktail and boasts a nice balance of sweet and tart. There was no harshness to it.
TEMPURA WHOLE FISH – 1ST COURSE
David: The impressively displayed branzino is almost meat-like in its rich flavor but yet so tender and mildly sweet. The extremely light tempura batter is the perfect non-overpowering compliment. The dipping sauces add that element of sweet and tangy that marries nicely to the fish.
Glasgow: This must-try fish dish was a visual, aromatic and palate-pleasing euphoria experience. I would consider this the equivalent of a chef’s “mike drop”. What a work of art this Whole Fish Tempura is; our photos do not do it justice. The tempura was so light, I forgot it was on the fish. Every bite was perfectly crunchy, the crisp lettuce leaves, spicy cucumber, bean sprouts, pickled vegetables, and black bean sweet & sour made the dish seem even lighter than it as already was. If you ever want to experience what it’s like to enjoy freshly caught fish cooked right on the beach at a restaurant, this Branzino is your best bet.
SHANGHAI STRIP STEAK – 2ND COURSE
David: I love a steak medium since it is still tender enough to soak up the juices. With this dish, it was served with an earthy, smoky and tart broth that complimented the slightly bitter broccolini but created a great well-layered complex flavorful dish.
Glasgow: I only tried a small piece of this dish because I was pre-occupied with the fish but was immediately wowed by the juiciness of the steak and the sweetness of the caramelized shallots with the contrasting broccolini flavors. The Taro Chips were divine and have some great crunch and texture to the dish. A return to Zengo Restaurant will include this.
PISTACHIO CREMA CATALANA
David: This crème Brule remix is so fresh. The pistachio makes the dish so light but maintains the rich distinct nuttiness of the nut. The addition of the fruit on top makes it very seasonally vibrant in taste and display.
SUGAR & SPICE CHURROS
Glasgow: This simple yet elegant dish will wow any chocolate lover and is great for anyone who wants a lighter dessert. The Churros were practically light as air, not hard yet retained a very nice crunch, which made enjoying it covered in the warmed, rich dark chocolate sauce doubly decadent.
David: It’s tequila and espresso with a dab of fragrant sweetness. I have found a new after dinner love. Such a nice marriage for Avion that is a perfect soothing finisher with a kick for when you want a strong liquor other than a whiskey or brandy. The element of sweet saves the cocktail as the straight tequila with the strong roast could be too much alone. This was a great winner.
Glasgow: I know this is not the usual after dinner cocktail but I was looking for something along the lines of a refreshing post dinner cleanser and the Lychee Bellini was the perfect end to this euphoric culinary journey we experienced at Zengo restaurant, plus I adore lychee. The combination of the fresh lychee puree and the sparkling Cava was exactly what I needed to top off this great meal.
David: This mash-up restaurant is a good idea both in theory and execution as there are many commonalities between Latin and Asian cuisines. The décor of Zengo Restaurant is pretty awesome with larger than life light fixtures and topiaries that bring to light the sculptural heritage of both cultures and also each culture’s love of nature and the land.
Glasgow: For years I’ve had no real excitement on fusion restaurants because I love cuisines with their original flavors, the local regional spices and cooking methods and I’ve been disappointed a few times with flavors that just didn’t mix well for me, but Zengo Restaurant absolutely got it right. If they were my first experience with fusion, my views would have changed a long time ago. Richard Sandoval perfectly celebrates these two distinct, bold flavors; nothing from the flavors or legacy of these two cultures is lost with Zengo’s flavor fusion. As we previously stated at the beginning, the interior is not what you’d expect when looking at the exterior. You will love being surrounded by all the wood and iron, it’s like being immersed in sculpture, there’s so much to take in.
Along with lunch and dinner, Zengo Restaurant also offers brunch on the weekend and happy hour, and for you cocktail connoisseurs, you’ll love their all night happy hour and reverse happy hour options. Check out the times below:
Saturday – Sunday: 11:30am – 4:00pm
ALL NIGHT HAPPY HOUR
Monday & Saturdays: 5:00pm to close
La Biblioteca & Main Bar only
Tuesday – Friday: 4:00pm – 7:00pm (Main Bar only)
Wednesday – Friday: 5:00pm – 7:00pm (Mezzanine only)
REVERSE HAPPY HOUR
Tuesday – Friday: 9:30pm to close
La Biblioteca only