Atop the debaucherous establishment known as Biblioteca, Zengo is the place to go to start or end those enriching all-nighters. This particular Mexican eatery is delightfully antsy, resting not on its fine, spicy laurels, but dallying in the oh-so-all-encompassing territory of fusion. Properly structured however, the duet of Mexican and Korean seemed not only natural but complementary. An unsubtle flair of spice adds a cross-cultural kick to the night’s fare–denoted by TK on the menu, meaning test kitchen and not something more sinister.
For starters, we ordered the tasting of 2 ceviches and 2 tiraditos. The ceviche mix of bay scallops was certainly flavorful, but altogether losing scallops for the shallots just seemed criminal. This was paired with a ceviche mahi mahi, seasoned with a kimchi puree–good but not terribly memorable. The tiraditos I found more refreshing. With the hamachi carrying a small payload of Siracha, what’s not to love. The mackerel too was a delight, with a fresh hint of basil and mint.
With the appetizers had come the TK cocktails of the season, for us, an agave-soju punch (tequila, mango, blood orange, lime) and the Asian Pear Mescal. For someone who has had many a shameful night indulging in this particular taste, the blend was a seamless one. The punch is well-bodied, like the name implies, but seemed less TK worthy than the Asian Pear Mescal, which was sweet with grenadine and fragrant with the natural tones of fruit.
The entrees that followed I am afraid are not of the TK variety. Although the Adobo Chicken beckoned, I was steered towards the Chipotle Miso Glazed Black Cod–a dish which will forever toe the line of passe and classic for as long as Nobu stands. A harmless bed of rice laid tamely beneath the cod, which was well cooked in texture, but lacking the Chipotle kick that would have made it a true adaptation. The other dish was again scallops, this time paired with the mellow flavors needed to accent the maritime flavor. Celery root, trumpet mushroom, corn–a nice touch to a well executed scallop.
As for the dessert, I ordered the flourless chocolate chipotle bar. Given the time I arrived in New York, I find flourless chocolate cakes somewhat a frou-frou New York fancy. However, this had the undeniable richness of chocolate without the distraction of fluffy flour filler. The chili glaze to top it off was just enough to give some heat with the sweet, tempered by a nice crema ice cream. A fantastic dessert.
For the more unconventional order, we had at the table the cranberry lemongrass crisp. Being somewhat a traditionalist when it comes to my sweets, I was not able to get on board with the herb party on the plate. However, for those that appreciate a good lemongrass-kefir lime kick, this would definitely serve as a clean finish.
While Biblioteca is really what I had known this establishment for, Zengo is far from an afterthought. The desire to bring more combinations to the table is always admirable, and mostly successful. I am sad to have missed Havana-Hanoi, but with Korean-Mexicana under my belt, I am sure to venture back for the next bilateral fiesta.
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From the Notebook: The meal was complimentary, though it did not affect my opinion, nor was I obligated to write.