January 2007: 100 Very Best Restaurants
A chic Latin-Asian fusion spot near the Verizon Center.
Reviewed By Todd Kliman, Ann Limpert, Cynthia Hacinli
Comments () | Published January 24, 2007
Happy Hour

Zengo
Address: 781 Seventh St., NW, Washington, DC 20001
Phone: 202-393-2929
Neighborhood: Penn Quarter/Chinatown, Downtown
Cuisines: South American, Sushi, Nuevo Latino, Pan-Asian, Fusion/Eclectic
Opening Hours: Open for lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 to 2:30. Open for dinner Sunday through Thursday 5 to 10, Friday and Saturday 5 to 11:30.
Nearby Metro Stops: Metro Center, Gallery Place-Chinatown
Price Range: Moderate
Dress: Upscale Casual
Noise Level: Chatty
Reservations: Recommended

No. 72: Zengo

Cross-breeding cuisines is an iffy business. This electric-looking newcomer might occasionally succumb to the snares of fusion, but it also makes a good case for Asian-Latino as a hybrid with a future.

Amid the glittering, neon-lit places around the Verizon Center, Zengo looks more like a club than a restaurant. The inside, with its tangerine wall tiles, red-orange pillars, and odd, potato-shaped balls of fired clay hanging from the ceiling, does little to dispel that notion.

Zengo is Japanese for “give and take,” and chef/owner Richard Sandoval and chef de cuisine Graham Bartlett bring a mad-scientist quality to their mixing and matching. Asian sweet notes (mango, tamarind paste) lend a touch of brightness to earthy Latin dishes such as the wonderful arepas de puerco slicked with hoisin. Spices from both worlds create striking effects, as in a Thai shrimp lettuce wrap, a messy but inspired jumble that gets an extra kick from its scattering of chorizo, and in palomilla, a grilled beef tenderloin with three kinds of pepper. Toasted and pulverized seeds—whether sesame or pumpkin—add body and depth to all manner of sauces. The least interesting plates are those in which the kitchen plays it straight, as in a fried spring roll filled with a mirepoix of vegetables. Alongside the wilder visions, it is unaccountably dull.

Sandoval has a handful of restaurants around the country—the original Zengo is in Denver—but the food doesn’t eat like chain fare. And the party goes on.

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Posted at 11:36 AM/ET, 01/24/2007 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Restaurant Reviews