Zengo Creates Latin-Asian Island Fusion for Summer Test Kitchen Menu

The culinary team at Zengo (www.richardsandoval.com/zengodc, 781 7th St NW) hits the test kitchen each month. The results, inspired by a unique pairing of one Asian and one Latin country, appear on their menu for a limited time. This summer they've brought together the island cuisines of Hong Kong and Puerto Rico with delicious results.

You can taste all of the dishes and paired cocktails chefs tasting-style, or add a few to your order off the regular menu. I say "go big or go home." Three cocktails, two small plates, two large plates and a dessert later, I had definitely gone big! 

I have never met a dumpling I wasn't at least very fond of, and I had some pretty strong feelings for the pork, plantain and foie gras ones that kicked off the evening. However, I would gladly cheat on my first love for the small plate of adobo sweet and sour short ribs. Braised for a day then fried, the crispy crust gives way to a melting meat inside. A vinegary chayote slaw gives a nice burst of balance to the sweet richness.

On any other night I would have been duly impressed by the Shaoxing wine marinated, roast chicken and bright, fresh-tasting Chinese broccoli, but the whole red snapper stole the evening. Beautifully presented, the body was deboned, coated in a light, greaseless batter offering delicate, moist, flaky flesh inside.

Photo:Zengo Crispy whole fish -- Whole, fried red snapper is the light, flaky centerpiece of Zengo's summer test kitchen menu.

When I thought I couldn't eat anymore, the evening ended with the lightest of desserts: pillowy coconut tapioca topped with bright lemon sorbet and guanabana espuma. Yeah, I didn't know what guanabana was either. It's a tropical fruit related to chirimoya, with flavors of strawberry, pineapple and a citrus zing. All you really need to know is that it is delicious!

As for the cocktails? Admittedly, I am not a fan of sweet libations, and the lychee Bellini and Strawberry Lemon Mojito made me nervous, but unnecessarily. They were balanced and light, well paired with the food. The Gingered Bourbon was simultaneously summery and made me want to come back for a lowball or three more on one of DC's crisp fall days. Hopefully we see one next month, because this menu is only available until September 30.


Jonathan Bardzik is a storyteller, demo chef and food writer in Washington, DC. You can find him outside at Eastern Market, each Saturday morning, cooking with local, fresh produce. Jonathan’s first cookbook, Simple Summer: A Recipe for Cooking and Entertaining with Ease, is due out this summer. Find out what Jonathan is cooking by reading his blog www.whatihaventcookedyet.com or his Facebook page of the same name. Need some foodporn? Follow @JonathanBardzik on Twitter and Instagram.