If you’re the adventurous type who likes to try new experiences and unique culinary creations, Latin-Asian fusion restaurant Zengo New York is the spot for you.
My experience with fusion restaurants have either been epic or supremely disappointing, rarely anything in between. Fortunately for me, Chef Richard Sandoval‘s Zengo was fantastic. The tri-level restaurant has a very intelligent lay-out: the second floor mezzanine level is the sake and shochu lounge and sashimi bar. The lower level is La Biblioteca, their Latin-inspired bar that houses over 400 bottles of tequila, mezcal, and sotol. The main ground floor level is where you experience the fusion of the two worlds and an exquisite dining experience.
In addition to their regular menu, every season the chefs develop a new Test Kitchen menu with recipes featuring the cuisine and spirits of one Latin and one Asian city. Offered for a limited time, the menu hones in and showcases flavors and different techniques from each specific location. We had the pleasure of previewing Zengo’s latest Test Kitchen menu, Shanghai-Sao Paulo.
Our dinner started off with cocktails, naturally. The Zengo crew developed four specialty cocktails, each with their own zing and flair. The coconut caipirinha is the standout favorite, recommended by our waiter. The coconut flavor is subtle and pairs well with the tangy caipirinha. The pomegranate kumquat cocktail was on the slightly sweeter side, but the fruits help to remind you of a distant tropical beach.
For the appetizers, we started off with Xiaolongbao, a.k.a. soup dumplings. These were less soup-y than, say, what you would find at Joe’s Shanghai in Chinatown renowned for their XLBs. But the pork/crab/linguica sausage filling with green onion and jalapeno ginger black vinegar was incredibly flavorful.
Next up was the crispy Shanghai spring rolls. The spring roll is filled with chicken, shrimp, and mushrooms along with a slew of veggies, including bamboo, carrots, and won bok. The highlight is the sichuan-acai berry-ginger dipping sauce. I found that even just a little bit of the powerful sauce goes a long way, added a rich experience to the roll.
The third of the small plates is the coconut crusted bohlinos de bacalhau of salt cod, potato, serrano, and green onion with cachaca-soy hot mustard and a sweet and sour sauce.
The main entree is the Picahna Steak and XO Style King Crab. The steak is a juicy dry-aged New York strip steak doused in a hot bean paste and black bean ginger sauce. The steak is accompanied by a king crab leg and broccolini. The dish also has an optional side of Feijoada, black beans mixed with shredded pork, bacon, tasajo beef, and linguica.
Dessert was a coconut tapioca. Tapioca is an acquired taste, which I admittedly do not like normally. However, the mango-kumquat gelee underneath brought a burst of delicious sweet and tangy flavor to the tapioca. Mixed in was also shaved coquito nuts, which added another layer of texture. There was also a scoop of lychee sorbet thrown in the mix, which I could’ve enjoyed by the gallon.
The Shanghai-Sao Paulo Test Kitchen menu at Zengo is offered now through March 31st, so be sure to make your reservations soon for this lovely culinary and cultural experience. 2012 also marks the 15th anniversary of when Chef Richard Sandoval opened his first restaurant, Maya, and he now has over 30 restaurants around the world. Stop by to celebrate his successes!
Zengo New York
622 Third Ave at 40th St
New York, NY 10017
February 15 – March 31, 2012
Pomegranate Kumquat Cocktail
Peppercorn Cucumber Martini
Spiked Acai Tea
Xiaolongbao Soup Dumplings
Crispy Shanghai Spring Rolls
Coconut Crusted Bohlinos de Bacalhau
Picahna Steak & XO Style King Crab
Feijoada side of black beans with shredded pork and bacon