Capital Cooking Contributor
Stepping inside Zengo, Richard Sandoval's popular Latin-Asian fusion restaurant, one notices that some things haven't changed. The lights are dim. The music wafts through the air. Much of the layout is familiar.
But there are pleasures found in the new space. The bar is bigger, and U-shaped, giving guests more space to sit and the bartenders more space to work. A wall has been knocked out to make space for more seating. The addition of hig-htop communal tables gives ample space compared to what was there prior.
And, almost more importantly, the menu has been revamped. The Latin-Asian fusion has been honed down to two cities in particular: Shanghai and Sao Paolo.
On the drink list, many look appetizing. The oh-so-popular Mango Mojito is now a Mango-Lychee Mojito. Not to worry, though! It's just as sweet and tasty. Those who were fans before will like the new version, which is made with a mango puree and lychee. But instead of the traditional mojito lime, this one is made with lemon, as it pairs well with lychee fruit.
One pleasant surprise on the new cocktail menu is the Pina Horchata, which is the traditional spiced rice milk horchata, with the added kick of tequila blanco and the fruity undertone of pineapple. It's creamy and spicy and sweet, like dessert in a glass, and a wonderful one at that.
If you're looking for something more strong than sweet, try the Rum Punch or one of the newly available tequila or rum flights. And if there's a special bottle that you really love, a brand new Owner's Club program allows guests to store bottles at Zengo and have them brought to the table at any time. The restaurant will also provide shaker service so bottle owners can make drinks with signature mixers: hibiscus-cranberry, ginger-orange, strawberry-cinnamon, and rum punch.
But anyone who has been to Zengo knows it's more than just drinks. At the new Latin Lounge, the food is also updated, and almost every new dish is a hit.
The new menu brings us small Shanghai-inspired Xiaolongbao Soup Dumplings. The hot liquid surrounds a pork, crab and sausage interior. Take a small bite into the flesh of the dumpling, carefully suck out the soup, and enjoy the rest.
On the Brazilian side of the menu, Bolinho de Bacalau make for fun bites. Salted cod is fried with potato, soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. Hot mustard and sweet and sour sauce accent the little bite. They are, in a word, fun.
The biggest surprise on the menu is the vegetarian sushi roll. Mushroom makes it hearty enough for the biggest meat eater. Red pepper gives it sweetness, avocado adds a creamy element, asparagus for a light crisp, and a lemon-sake aioli is the perfect finish. It's a must-try.
For those who frequented Zengo before, the new lounge is welcome. With a larger space and more seating options, it is much more inviting than before. Old favorites can still be found, but after trying out what's new, guests might have some new go-to items.
With so much new to try, happy hour is a great time to try them all. Daily happy hours are from 5-8pm and offer a variety of $5 drinks and plates. If happy hour doesn't work, the Latin Lounge also offers a late night menu.
Zengo is located at 781 Seventh Street NW. For more information and for reservations, call 202.393.2929.
Photo Credit: Kyle Gustafson