Friday, October 23, 2015

Zentan

Zentan, located in Donovan House – a Thompson Hotel, specializes in contemporary Japanese comfort food with influences from Chef Yo Matsuzaki’s childhood in Shikoku, Japan. Prominently situated along the 14th street corridor, Zentan is all about presenting quality ingredients in an approachable manner. Closest Metro is McPherson Square.

January 2011: Our second stop for Restaurant Week this year, we headed out on this chillingly cold night to try Top Chef Master Susur Lee's restaurant. The service was a little lacking as they made us wait for a table, then sat us at the bar - we immediately asked to be put at a regular table. After waiting a few more moments, we were finally seated only to be initially ignored by our server. Once she came and took our orders, she was mixed up on our drink orders and Keith did not even get his until the appetizers came out. I understand how extra busy it can get, especially during RW- so I will let this one slide.

As for the decor - a smaller hotel restaurant space - Asian flare is highlighted with rich red and gold colors, lanterns, candles, and dark chocolate wooden tables. Our food was served in the efficient speedy manner typical of RW. We each ordered the extra drink pairing, where each course has an option between wine or beer, and also sake for the main course.

I am not sure if my expectations were higher than usual, due to Chef Lee's notariety, but I was left a little underwhelmed in flavors and experience. Although everything tasted good, I felt the Asian flavors were a little dumbed down to "American taste buds". There was no spice, no kick, no exotic intrigue. Even a little ginger here or there could have helped. I found even the basic elements, such as tofu, to be overcooked and bland. Keith, on the other hand, enjoyed his plates enough to suggest we should come back another time to try the regular menu. In the end, Zentan was nothing more than a little above average.  Exact items we ate are detailed below.

October 2015:  We returned to Zentan for a late dinner with my friend, Lucinda.  With a new chef at the helm, we were interested to check out the new menu.  First, we ordered drinks.  Keith opted for a house-bottled cocktail, Thomas Circle Fizz made with Bombay sapphire gin, shochu, lime, mint, and soda.


Lucinda and I each started with a sake flight.  We tried the Junmai Ginjo - a selection of three highly polished rice sakes: Rihaku “Wandering Poet” (clean, well rounded, fragrant);Yamagata Kaori “Fragrance” (extremely aromatic, floral, fruity); and Taisetsu “Ice Dome” (slow aged in an igloo, fragrant, smooth).  The Rihaku was very bland, almost like water, but sneakily caught up with you because it was still strong sake.  We also sample the Junmai Daiginjo - a selection of three extremely polished rice sakes: Kuromatsu-Hakushika (fruity, delicate, velvety); Wakatake Onikoroshi “Demon Slayer” (robust, bold, rich, fruity); and Kontecki “Pearls of Simplicity” (soft, crisp, like melting snow).  My favorite was the Demon Slayer - with a rich flavor and slightly sweet finish.  Afterwards, we switched to other cocktails.  I tried the Sake Swooner made with Grey​ Goose vodka, meyer lemon puree, lemon, lemongrass & vanilla shrub, and sparkling sake.  I thought I would enjoy the sparkling sake and lemon combos but the vanilla was way overpowering and made the drink unbearable.


For food, we got a sampling of hot items to start.  The Kaisen Gyoza were dumplings filled with seafood and served with a light butter ponzu.  A standout were the Rock Shrimp that were crispy and spicy from the kochujan aioli, with candied walnuts and micro cilantro.  Keith and Lucinda each enjoyed a skewer of Buta Bara - marinated Kurobuta pork belly served with mustard.  We also tried the Tsukune - chicken & pork meatballs and the Shishito Japanese​ peppers served with grated radish and ponzu.


Another hot dish item and Keith and Lucinda enjoyed was the Ton Toro Katsu Curry.  Panko crusted pork jowl sat on a pool of house made Japanese curry, served with a soft boiled egg.  This dish was comfortable and perfect for Fall.


Lastly, we had to get some sushi.  I chose nigiri of Maguro Zuke (marinated tuna), Maguro Akami (lean tuna), and Hamachi (yellowtail).  We also tried the Fire Dragon roll made with spicy maguro, unagi, avocado, and topped with tobiko.  Everything was fresh, but I admit I was already a bit full from the hot dishes that I could not enjoy the sushi as much as I wanted to.

Overall, we were pleased with the new menu at Zentan and have updated our scores below.  The only downside was the ambience.  It was very dark and almost cramped feeling with a very strong sour odor in the entryway that the staff tried to mask with an even stronger putrid floral candle that just killed the senses - a total no-no for a sushi restaurant.  Nevertheless, our server was on point and the food came out at a moderate pace.
 
Total Rating: 3.7
Food: 4, Price: 3, Service: 3.5, Ambience: 3, Accessibility: 5
What I ate:
Chop Chop Chicken
chopped chicken in sesame soy sauce wrapped in Bibb lettuce
-white wine pairing-

Empress Tofu
stir fried with vegetables, in a hsaio hsing wine, served with white rice
-hot Sake pairing-

Lemon Grass Pana Cotta
-Japanese plum wine pairing-
-------------------------
Kaisen Gyoza
dumplings filled with seafood, butter ponzu

Rock Shrimp
 crispy rock shrimp, kochujan aioli, candied walnuts, micro cilantro

Tsukune
chicken & pork meatballs

Shishito
Japanese​ peppers, grated radish, ponzu

Maguro Zuke
marinated tuna

Maguro Akami
lean tuna

Hamachi
yellowtail

Fire Dragon
roll with spicy maguro, unagi, avocado, tobiko

Plus Keith ate:
Crudo Sampler
big eye tuna, salmon, charred scallop
-Kirin beer pairing-

Cantonese Marinated Skirt Steak
shallot brown butter, chili ponzu & crunchy hazelnuts
served with Wasabi mashed potatoes
-hot Sake pairing-

Warm Chocolate Cake
served with vanilla ice cream
-Japanese plum wine pairing-
-------------------------
Buta Bara
marinated Kurobuta pork belly

Ton Toro Katsu Curry
Panko crusted pork jowl, house made Japanese curry, soft boiled egg


Zentan Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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