Our outing to Zengo for restaurant week was perfect in every way. Zengo deserves much of the credit, obviously, but it helped to have a good sized group of people – five – who were all willing and thrilled to share their food. I think Frank Bruni’s article about how deranged his dining companions have been over the years says less about the world at large – as he alleges – and more about the caliber of his friends. Certainly none of the attitudes he describes were at play at our table, as nothing failed to get passed around and shared and nobody was shy about consuming their fair share.
My darling wife and I arrived ahead of both our dining companions and our reservation so we spent a little quality time in the bar. I’m a boring beer drinker but my dearest had the cucumber mojito, which she declared excellent. The bartender claims their mango mojito is also superb, but the conversation happened because of the look of horror on our faces when he made a few in front of them. No doubt that mass of pink goo he dropped in on top of the ice tastes like delicious mango mint goodness once it’s dissolved into the drink, but, like sausage, this is something you should not watch being made if you expect to enjoy it.
I comment on how polite and efficient the host staff was in seating us only because it was the beginning of a trend. I see a lot of concern from people about the quality of service during restaurant week but if any of the staff at Zengo thought we were unworthy of their best effort than I can only imagine what it’s like there during ‘normal’ service. I was tempted to see if was even possible for me to drain my water glass below the halfway mark before someone came around but I feared I’d rupture something.
It was fortunate that our dinner party was so large; Zengo had the entirety of their menu[pdf] available for restaurant week selection, with the exception of just two items with a $5 upcharge. That’s not in line with the menu linked from DC Foodies so either they changed their mind as the month went on or they weren’t that generous every night. Whatever the source of our good fortune, we made the best of it and ordered as wide a selection as we could manage. There were no shortage of first and second courses to choose from but desert’s three options required some overlap in our selections.
Although everything was superb, if I went back again outside of RW I’d seriously consider simply ordering some of the appetizers. The ceviche was excellent and the antojitos well filling. Pictured above is the arepas de pureco, which came with three of the crispy cornmeal crackers piled high with pulled pork. They weren’t the small-pancake sized soft arepas I expected, but we no less delicious.
Then again, bypassing the main courses would require forgoing equally fantastic food. Our only overlap there was the palomilla, which two of us ordered.
Perhaps Bruni is right about the steak, if nothing else.
That just made more to share, however, and the fact that it was only marginally tougher that room-temp butter didn’t hurt. The roast pork was similarly tender, but the standout had to be the scallops. I’m pretty ambivalent about scallops; while I like them, they come to the table imperfect more often than not in my experience. Too dry, too rubbery, overseasoned… When given the option I usually take a pass. Thank the heavens one of my dining companions didn’t.
If I’ve had a more perfectly prepared scallop in my life I don’t recall it. I’ve killed a fair number of my brain cells with alcohol but I’d remember a scallop this good.
Desert had another surprise. Above is the chocolate tarte, which one of our group wrote about on another blog, complete with interesting facts about the cocoa nibs. This was the odds-on favorite at ordering time and we arranged for two of them. Once everything came, however, the standout in my opinion was what I’d made as a throwaway order: the churros and chai.
If your lone experience with churros is the overly sugared and exceptionally dense offering from Costco then you’ve never had a proper churro. Before last week I’d have told you that the only good churros are bought while you’re stopped at a light in Little Havana, handed over our of a beat-up styrofoam cooler in exchange for $1.
Zengo’s offering will never supplant those in my heart, but what they brought to the table was so light and delicate that it was in danger of floating away. I popped one in my mouth and bit down and it basically disintegrated. Superb. The only flaw in this desert is that they bring you a shot glass full of this chai concoction. I’m sure some would think it fantastic but it didn’t do it for me. One spoonful was two too many for me.
At least for our party, Zengo succeeded in the restaurant week mission: we’ll be back another time and happily pay normal price.
Zengo is located at 781 7th St. NW. Closest Metro stop: Gallery Place-Chinatown (Green, Yellow and Red lines). For more information, call (202) 393-2929.
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