I’m getting to be even more of a Bitch, I believe. Normally, I’d be all about a delicious, bottomless, boozy and affordable brunch. It’s true that Richard Sandoval restaurants—Masa 14, El Centro, and now Zengo—with their bottomless and endless $35 brunch deals, are tried and true for leaving drunk and happy. However, like Mckayla Maroney, I’m just not impressed.
So, Zengo launched this deal, the same ‘schtick as its cousins over on 14th Street, last weekend, and I was there. (We were invited to try it, so this Bitch did not pay $35 nor did her guest Bitch Daniela.)
The colorful, Latin-Asian-inspired restaurant is alongside the Gallery Place/Chinatown metro. The decor is a bit too clubby, bright and in-your-face for a daytime brunch. However, I’ve been once for happy hour before a Wizards game and it was bustling and fun—with excellent happy hour specials.
As for brunch, for $35 per person and $10 per child under 10, it’s all-you-can-eat selection of ceviche and sushi, salad, dim sum and antojitos, and brunch plates along with innovative brunch cocktails.
Zengo’s new brunch menu is complemented by a bottomless supply of featured brunch cocktails such as the Bloody Mary, Bloody Maria, and sake sangria, as well as four types of mimosas: mimosa traditional, passion fruit mimosa, guava mimosa and the pomegranate mimosa.
Let’s begin. The brunch cocktails are damn good: strong, delicious, flavorful and unique. Sick of Bloody Marys? Get a Bloody Maria, made with tequila instead. However, Daniela was not sick of Bloody Marys, so she had a house-made Bloody Mary, and she said it was delicious and made with home-made pickle brine. Are you with me?! she quipped. A bartender on the side, Daniela knows her cocktails.
While I was waiting for Miss Daniela, I ordered the yucca fries with miso mustard. I absolutely crave, and then later inhale, yucca fries. These ones were yummy, but they were overcooked, making them a bit dry and hard. The yucca fries and accompanying dipping sauces at Sandoval’s Masa 14 are far better.
Once Daniela arrived, we began ordering en masse. The menu is small-plates style, and we ordered no less than ten.
The first two dishes we had were quite good, but the cuisine got progressively worse from there. We ordered the Ceviche Dorado: mahi mahi, kimchee, cucumber and cantalope. It was a sweet, flavorful, unique take on ceviche. However, it was bright orange, leaving me curious how anything that is natural could be that bright.
Similarly, the first thing that stood out to Miss Daniela about the food was the color and presentation (she’s a video editor by day). The food was “bright and inviting,” she says.
The vegetarian sushi roll was also very good—it was made with grilled asparagus, red pepper, avocado, mushroom and topped with a lemon sake aioli. The red peppers were thick, chewy and flavorful, making for a sushi texture not unlike fish.
I also really enjoyed the shrimp-vegetable potstickers with red chile-dashi sauce. They arrived in a dim sum basket, were correctly fried and filled with delicious, real, enormous chunks of shrimp and vegetables.
Not long after, I was pleasantly surprised by the crispy tofu with roasted corn-potato salad and Korean chile sauce. I may be the only vegetarian that doesn’t like tofu—Daniela ordered the dish—but I actually enjoyed the tofu because of the way it was prepared: crispy and super flavorful and topped with a spicy and sweet chile sauce.
There were multiple carnivorous dishes, four to be exact, that were left for Daniela alone: the short rib hash with poached eggs, yuca, poblano rajas and caramelized onions; the peking duck chilaquiles (which were cold upon arrival); the bacon fried rice with scrambled eggs, and the achiote-hoisin pork arepas; served with corn masa, avocado and crema fresca, a Colombian dish that was beautifully presented, delicious and unique. The hoisin pork arepas were the winner among the bunch.
The dish I was most excited about, and coincidentally disappointed me the most, was the lobster-chipotle grits. I had expected warm, chipotle grits with chunks of lobster. Instead, I received pink-tinged grits with lobster flavoring, but no lobster. A tacky cost-cutting measure that fools no food aficionado.
Things turned back uphill with the salmon Benny, which, although small, was well-done. The toasted bread crispy, the egg poached correctly, the sauce flavorful, and the presentation excellent.
We concluded with the churros with Mexican hot chocolate, by far and away my favorite food (there’s a bit of Latina in me). However, the churros were extremely greasy, soggy with grease, in fact. The Mexican hot chocolate was good, but it lacked any spice or flavor that was would differentiate it from typical chocolate sauce. So, essentially, it was chocolate sauce.
The churros at Oyamel are far better. The ones at Beasley’s Chicken and Honey in Raleigh were even better.
And now begins my tirade. The food at Zengo, and at Masa 14, is too sugary, too salty, too greasy, and too overdone (lots of flavors and once). Based on our recent assessments, Becca and I concluded that it is meant to be eaten with alcohol. That said, it’s certainly not bad, it’s just not as high-quality or refined as I would like it to be. However, it appeals to the masses, and it should: bottomless for $35, the menu has something for everyone, and you will leave very, very full.
To conclude, some advice from Daniela: “Go hungry. Also, the food comes out in waves … watch out not to over order. Stick to a variety for the best sampling from the menu, steering clear of ordering too many bacon dishes, and you’ll have a great meal. And what’s better than curing your food coma than shopping on 7th Street? Nothing, of course, which incidentally was what I did.”
The Bitches say: B+. Good food but not amazing quality to the blogger with discerning taste buds. Great booze. Good deal. That said, you will leave full, drunk and happy with money left in your wallet.
781 7th Street, N.W.
Zengo serves brunch Saturdays and Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.