Whoever said 3rd time’s a charm just got roundly shushed by the crew at Zengo, who, per the website’s translation of the name, gave as good as they took the 1st couple of times I was there but last night seemed fuzzy on the tacit terms of our little transaction, namely that they would extract from me a fat wad of cash in gracious (key qualifier, that) exchange for such morsels as I would deem nearly, not even necessarily exactly but nearly, worth said fat wad.
Nothing we had was bad; it all just happened to pale in comparison to similar dishes we’d had elsewhere recently. & if there’s one thing Latin-Asian fusion shouldn’t do, it’s pale. What with the chiles & the tropical citrus & the hard-acquired tastes (e.g., huitlacoche, natto), it should err on the side of garishness for sure.
It was mainly a matter of texture throwing flavor for a loop.
So while, for example, these Thai chicken-&-Oaxaca cheese empanadas with mango salsa, set in a pool of what I’d have sworn upon a waterboard studded with nails was peanut sauce despite no mention thereof on the menu (which did, however, reference indetectable poblano rajas), clearly had a lot going on,
the precise nature of that lot wasn’t so sparklingly clear—was in fact denatured by flimsy masa pockets that went soggy quick. It all just squished together like a face about to cry.
Compare to the beef empanadas at Buenos Aires Grill, accompanied by chimichurri that, despite its red color (due I was told to the presence of red-wine vinegar), is green in flavor with herbs (mainly parsley) & garlic & olive oil enough to warrant positive identification without pain of torture:
Simplicity itself, these are every bit as crunchy as they are juicy. If they’re not the very picture of structural integrity, I don’t know what is.
I know it’s not this. Here we have seared foie gras with oxtail marmalade & poached mango & some sort of flame-retardant. Maybe they accidentally scorched the corn fritter & had to put it out—which would explain why it failed to make the appearance the menu promised.
The 1st time I had this dish, it was pretty darn exquisite. This time, the lobe was rubbery, the oxtail, even in the form of those tiny nuggets, too chewy. Granting that it’s not terribly fair to compare a whole seared lobe to a pâté, I can only retort that it’s better to excel at a lesser recipe than ruin a loftier one. Table 6 makes a potted foie so smooth you wish you could keep it in your pantry & eat it from the jar with your fingers standing up when you’re glum & insomniac in your underwear:
cf. Nanni Moretti with the giant jar of Nutella in Bianca:
Stuffed with crabmeat, topped with seared salmon & dotted with sesame-chipotle aioli & sesame seeds, this is called the volcano roll. They must’ve left out the word “dormant”—it’s quite an attraction but hardly on the verge of explosion. In the muddle I suspected the crabmeat was not fresh-picked. If it was, it might as well not have been for all I could tell, which is even worse.
The one thing that did rock hard was on the happy-hour* menu, namely the beef taco duo, piled high with richly spiced shredded beef & chunks of avocado. Apparently some aliens picked up the image on their satellites, hence all the excited static. See, we’re not so different after all. Maybe the war of the worlds will end with a fiesta.
If so, it won’t be staffed by Zengo’s waitresses, who don’t seem the type to get all into character & wear sombreros & yell ¡Arriba! & knock back tequila shots with the crowd.
In short, if I’m going to get a complimentary side of sullenness with my beef tacos (see gracious exchange), I’d just as soon be at El Taco de Mexico, where at least I’ll also get beans, rice, & salsa in a molcajete from which smoke practically rises.
*Zengo, FYI, calls it “feng shui hour.” Maybe that explains it—I just ordered wrong; instead of cocktails & apps I should have asked for the water & air special.
Except I’d just had that the night before, in my own home, for free.