While Zengo may be tucked away in a quiet corner of the new Santa Monica Place mall, nothing screams louder than its rooftop city-to-ocean views and artful dishes. Brought to you by Bon Appetit & Mexico's Toque d' Oro award-winning chef, Richard Sandoval, his Japanese & Latin cuisines are blended beautifully. And the customizable Lunch $20 Prix Fix Menu isn't fussy at all, but rather serious bang for your delicious dollar.
- spicy, gingery, citrusy, freshly pureed Mango Lemonade $4
My Lunch Prix Fix Choice:
- more-than-expected, spicy like tuna, crispy fresh Chipotle Yellowfin Tuna Roll with Wasabi Tobiko, Avocado, Cucumber & Sesame-Chipotle Rouille
- inhalable, worth getting forked over & beaten up for Masala-Achiote Roasted Chicken Tandoori with Black Bean Dal, Cilantro & Mango Salsas
- husky 'n grainy breading, kinda chewy, yet plump Yucca Fries with Lemon Togarishi Aioli & Miso Mustard Dipping Sauces
The Handmodel's Lunch Prix Fix Choice:
- oniony, earthy Miso Soup with Tofu, Tomato, Wakame & Truffle Oil
- hot saucey, smokey, crunchy 'n meaty Grilled Salmon with Sauteed Mushrooms, Bacon & Achiote Ponzu
- lemony, buttery, charred Grilled Asparagus with Lemon Peel & a Pat of Butter
Out of all the restaurants opening up in the new Santa Monica mall, Zengo was my first choice. Primarily because it reminded me most of one of my favorite Miami restaurants, Sushi Samba. But with each sip, slurp, and bite from each new dish arriving – they serve "give 'n take" style as soon as it's cooked so it tastes fresh – my eyes and tastebuds continued to be surprised.
The hand-muddled Mango Lemonade definitely set the tone for the meal. You can tell a lot of attention to detail went into the preparation of what's usually a fairly standard drink. This one is so ridiculously yummy you'll forget all about the fact it's sans alcohol.
The Yellowfin Tuna Roll comes with a lot more rolls than expected (8), especially considering Zengo serves "small shared plates." The Green Roe on top is tiny 'n crunchy, and there's a great balance of cream and spice between the Aioli, Avocado, and Wasabi Tobiko.
The Miso Soup is also unexpected with chunky Tomato and Truffle additions.
As for the Indian/Latin Chicken Tandoori, there are so many flavors going on between the Red & Green Dals, Crema on top of Black Beans, and Achiote spices that you literally will be fighting over every last bite. (I kind of regret that I inhaled it so fast, trying to down more than my hand model, because I wanted to savor each little bit of tenderness.)
The Grilled Salmon has a striking Charcoal flavor, almost a little overwhelming. But accompanied by the thick Bacon Bits, super plump 'n meaty Mushrooms, Pickled Carrots, Crunchy Sprouts, and Tobasco-like Sauce it's definitely a hot mouthful.
Like our waitress said, the Yucca Fries are probably something you've never seen before – besides in Taro Chip form. These puppies are thick, rugged, husky, plump, and stacked – so which ever way you swing, they'll float your boat. The two Dipping Sauces are tangy, lemony, and spicy. Swirl 'em together for maximum effect.
And the Grilled Asparagus dish is plentiful and simple with humble Butter, Lemon & Garlic.
Whether you sit in a private dining room inside, out on the heated rooftop patio by the fireplace, or belly up to the muddled bar, your dining experience at Zengo will definitely be one to remember.
395 Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica, CA 90401. 310-899-1000