Zengo’s “Test Kitchen” Is a Culinary Passport
Zengo, Richard Sandoval’s Asian-Latin fusion restaurant at 781 7th St. NW in Chinatown, is offering a culinary journey from Brazil to China without leaving the DMV with its latest “Test Kitchen” menu introduced earlier this month.
Every three months, the chefs at the four Zengo restaurants around the county – D.C., Denver, New York City and Santa Monica, Calif. – including D.C. chef de cuisine Jason Streiff take turns creating the “Test Kitchen” menu featuring the cuisine and spirits of on Latin county and one Asian country. In the past, combinations included Japan to Mexico, Hong Kong to San Juan, Thailand to Cuba, Peru to Malaysia, Singapore to San Salvadore and others.
Prepare for takeoff with pan de queijo shrimp buns or Szechuan eggplant pastels. The Brazilian cheese bread is filled with Thai chili shrimp covered with an orange glaze that were delicious. The cheese buns alone without the shrimp or glaze would be worth the trip. I could have made a whole meal out of just this dish. The pastel is a fried handheld pie filled with tofu, mushrooms and scallions and served with a chimichurri-sesame soy dipping sauce. Both are $10.
For your destination, choose from either sea scallops and pork belly or lamb chops. The sea scallops and char sui pork belly ($28) is served with a feijoada (black bean) sauce and a citrus and hearts of palm salad. The scallops were big and perfectly cooked and the pork belly a good blend of fat and meat. The Kung Pao lamb chops asado ($30) with a spicy cachaça Szechuan sauce served with yucca puree, haricot vert and toasted peanuts. While not a fan of lamb normally, these were tasty without the usual gamey aftertaste, and I’d gladly trade mashed potatoes for the yucca puree any day.
For a smooth landing, corporate pastry chef Jose Luis Flores created a guava rangoon ($7) filled with guava and cream cheese, and served with dulce de leche ice cream. One order of these is not enough. While many of Zengo’s dishes are made for sharing, and I recommend it with the other two course, everyone should order their own dessert. I’m not sharing mine.
To complement the bold dishes, Rob Day, Richard Sandoval Restaurant’s national beverage director, crafted two new cocktails using the flavorful fruits, spices and spirits of China and Brazil. The first is the Monte Alegre made with Pitu Cachaca, elderflower liqueur, Campari, fresh lychee, fresh lime juice and Champagne, priced at $12. The other is the Strawberry Chipiroshka – a twist on a Brazilian classic — made with vodka, Thai basil simple syrup, fresh strawberry puree, fresh lime juice and ginger ale garnished with a fresh lime priced at $11. Both are flavorful and pack a punch, but my favorite was the Strawberry Chipiroshka.
Zengo’s Brazil-China TK dishes are available through Sept. 30. These limited-time dishes can be found on the menu with a “TK” next to their description and are served nightly during dinner service from 5-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 p.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday. Take a trip to Zengo today and send your test buds on a vacation.
Editor-in-Chief Mark Heckathorn is a journalist, movie buff and foodie. He oversees DC on Heels editorial operations as well as strategic planning and staff development. Reach him with story ideas or suggestions at dcoheditor (at) gmail (dot) com.