Wowee. When I was invited in to Zengo recently to check out the specials on its rotating Test Kitchen menu—whereby the crew behind globetrotting restaurateur Richard Sandoval’s Asian Fusion showcase focuses on 2 specific culinary centers, currently Hong Kong & Puerto Rico—I was happy to do so; after all, chef Clint Wangsnes has proven a rather-undersung talent since he’s been on board. But I didn’t know just how happy I’d be once these shumai passed my lips.
At 1st nibble, I was almost disappointed; silken as the pouches were, & as much as I always love the earthy zing of the Chinese black vinegar they were perched in, I could only discern ground pork. But upon the 2nd, they positively blossomed with the velvety-smooth yet distinct savor of foie & green plantain—a combination that might’ve have been jarring in less-deft hands.
A sizeable portion of pork ribs whose tangy-sweet marinade blended ingredients of adobo & sweet-&-sour sauces was satisfying as well—the tender, plentiful meat coming clean off the bone alongside fluffy, more-please potato croquettes stuffed with bacon & jack cheese; chayote slaw reminiscent of green-papaya salad added cool contrast.
Of the 2 Test Kitchen entrées, I preferred the plump, moist Hong Kong roast chicken with “Shaoxing tomatoes”—blistered little pops of juicy fruit that I’m guessing were marinated in the namesake rice wine—over Moros y Cristianos, i.e. black beans & white rice (the un-PC translation is “Moors & Christians”); the overall effect was as vibrant as it looked on the plate, with its pool of jus & herbed oil & its heap of Chinese broccoli.
Mind you, the gorgeous whole crispy fried fish was no slouch, but it was a lot for the palate to tackle, served in a funky black-bean vinaigrette over a puree of malanga that evoked Hawaii’s infamous poi—meaning that it’s probably an acquired taste. If you’re down with eye sockets & starch, then by all means.
Besides, the effervescent, floral lychee Bellini will help lighten the sensory load.
You’ve really got to respect Zengo’s efforts to evolve & stay relevant on the very fast-moving dining scene that it helped to rev here in Denver—especially considering its high sizzle-to-fizzle rate.