Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Zengo: All you can eat and drink brunch

Zengo, at Santa Monica Place, has everything you want from a brunch spot. Gorgeous patio seating (with heat lamps if needed). Gret view and ocean breeze. Easy parking at the mall. An exciting Latin-Asian menu that includes small-plate items such as banh mi sliders, dim sum and ceviche. But most importantly, they offer an all-you-can-eat-and-drink Sunday brunch for only $35.

This is definitely a place that you should dine with more than 2 friends, so you can sample all the dishes as we did.

Mimosa and mango mimosa. They also have sake sangria and lychee bellini.

They also offer bloody mary, and a bacon bloody mary.

EdamameBacon fried rice ~ fried egg / scallion / shiitake mushroom
This was a fairly normal fried rice, but I thought it was a good first dish to coat the stomach.

Ceviche ~ shrimp / octopus / calamari / aji panca /heart of palm / orange / serrano / bonito
I really enjoyed the ceviche which had a nice spicy-citrus combination. The seafood tasted fresh and was not rubbery. I also liked the crunch of the heart of palm which I don't see enough of at most places.

Sea bass ceviche ~ aji amarillo / red onion / cucumber / apple /tomato / shiso
I preferred the previous ceviche to this. Although this was still tasted fine, I thought there was too much cucumber and the fish needed some flavoring.

Peking duck hash ~poached egg / poblanos rajas / caramelized onion /plantain
I really enjoyed this dish which included a generous serving of tender shredded duck, sweet plantains, caramelized onions and topped with a runny egg yolk. This dish was hearty and was the perfect hangover food.

Shrimp vegetable potstickers ~red chile-dashi sauce
This was a pretty ordinary potsticker but I was pleased to find that the dumpling skin wasn't too thick. There was also a generous filling of shrimp and veggies. Asian Eastsiders may balk at the dumpling and compare it to the ones you can find in Alhambra, but I think it's good enough for someone that's just craving a dumpling and doesn't want to drive 30 miles east.

Pork-mushroom gyoza ~ black vinegar-soy sauce
For a gyoza, I thought these should have been pan fried a bit more. It was missing that crispy skin. But overall, still tasty.

House made meatballs ~ ginger / garlic / tomato / kaffir lime sauce /cilantro / parsley
The meatballs were dense but surprisingly quite tender. Zengo does a great job of meshing Latin and Asian ingredients. The aromatic kaffir lime and cilantro foam was an interesting combination but worked really well.

Thai chicken empanadas ~ chile poblano / oaxaca cheese / mango salsa
The empanadas came out pipping hot, with a buttery and flaky pastry. The shredded chicken was juicy and well seasoned. Flavorful chicken juice ozzed out of the empanada as you bit into it. This was one of my favorite dishes.

Banh mi sliders~ achiote pork / pickled vegetables / citrus aioli
This was similar to a pulled pork slider with a sweet marinade. There was also some sort of a Vietnamese cured ham or perhaps headcheese. The meats were topped with pickled vegetables that was tangy and crunchy. I was quite impressed with the bun which was fresh and soft.

Beef tenderloin benedict ~ poached egg / kimchee / hollandaise
I preferred the previous slider to this. The meat was charred and I hoped it had been a bit juicer. The perfectly poached egg was a nice touch, which added some moisture to the meat.

Thai shrimp lettuce wraps~ chorizo / peanut / cilantro / tamarind chutney
I really enjoyed this version of a lettuce wrap which traditionally is served with only pork. The ground pork was seasoned well, and the shrimps were battered and fried. Included in the mix were spiced nuts and sweet mango mint chutney. The flavors were very unique and bold.

Chipotle yellow fin tuna roll ~ wasabi tobiko / avocado / sesame chipotle rouille
This is a good dish if you are craving sushi but it wasn't as unique as the other dishes on the menu. But Zengo does a good job of offering something for everyone, so this would do well with sushi lovers.

Yucca fries / miso mustard / lemon sake
I actually really enjoyed the yucca fries although some of my friends found the texture odd. The yucca was soft in the center and had a sweet taste. The breading was very crispy and not oily.

Grilled achiote salmon ~bacon / shiitake mushroom / ponzu
The salmon was grilled with a char but I thought it was a bit overcooked. The mushrooms added a heavy, earthy flavor. I liked the use of ponzu sauce, which worked well with the salmon and gave a tart flavor to the fish.

Pan dulce ~ mexican sweet bread / cinnamon whipped cream /licor 43 / star anise
We ended the meal with their only sweet dessert item. The Pan dulce was toasted and airy, and drizzled with a sweet orange agave syrup. I enjoyed the light and spicy cinnamon whipped cream.

I thought an all-you-can-eat meal would result in poor quality and mediocre-tasting food but in fact, the dishes at Zengo were anything but. Some dishes were what you could find at many places (dumplings, fried rice) but they were still tasty. There were other dishes that combined Latin and Asian flavors perfectly, and were quite unique. Apart from the good food, the service was excellent. Our waitress came by often to take our drink orders. She was also friendly and gave us good recommendations. If you love trying different dishes and like to drink, Zengo is definitely a great place for brunch.

Hits: great deal, location/view, service, octopus ceviche, empanadas, duck hash
Misses: -
Rating: ***1/2

395 Santa Monica Place.,
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 899-1000

1 comment:

Marie said...

I went here for happy hour and although it wasn't a steal of a deal, I was pleasantly surprised and liked the food. $35 is more than I would spend on a normal brunch, but maybe for a special occasion!