The Sichuan rice noodle bowl may have been Exhibit A in Zengo’s successful appeal to my sensibilities, but it wasn’t the only compelling piece of evidence presented before my own private court of opinion last week. A number of other dishes convinced me to change my verdict against the Little Raven still-hot spot from guilty to gung-ho get out of jail free.

For instance, though the fried calamari in & of itself didn’t impress me—the ratio of breading to ring being disproportionate—the dish as a whole was refreshingly imagined as a veritable salad, what with a tangle of mizuna, sliced avocado & the bright, tangy mingling of red chile & tomato-guajillo vinaigrette.

Zengocalamari

The pork belly, too, nearly knocked Rioja’s stellar signature version off its top perch as a result of its richly sophisticated presentation.

Zengoporkbelly
So fatty it reminded me of lardo, the chunks of belly practically melted into their pool of congee ringed with Vietnamese coffee sauce & with a sort of chayote coulis, an inspired pairing just tinged with green bitterness (although the supposed inclusion of boniato, a tropical sweet potato, didn’t make any impression); their crispy skin found an echo in the fried shallot rings.

And Zengo’s take on black cod was the most luscious I’ve encountered in a long while.

Zengocod

Broiled in a chipotle miso & drizzled with a lemon-togarashi (7-spice) aioli, the sizeable filet, silken of texture, was so creamy & sweet in its way it could’ve been dessert.

That said, unexpected sweetness was the fatal flaw of the Thai lettuce wraps.

Zengoshrimpwraps
A cloyingly fruity sauce overwhelmed the mélange of shrimp, chorizo & peanuts, such that the side of tamarind chutney just added insult to the injury of integrity; had the main ingredients been replaced with scallops, salami & cashews, you’d barely have noticed.

Still, the current big picture at Zengo is as remarkably focused as it is vibrantly panoramic. After a 2-year hiatus based on disappointed hesitation, I won’t let another month pass before my next, far more enthusiastic visit.

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