Zengo – Shanghai/Sao Paulo Special Menu
I was recently invited to preview a new menu available at Zengo from February 15th through March 31 – Zengo Test Kitchen: Shanghai/Sao Paulo. Combining the flavors of Shanghai with those of Sao Paulo, I was excited to see soup dumplings on the menu – as you might have realized, I’ve been on a huge kick lately and can’t get enough!
First up, though, was a special cocktail designed to complement this menu. Since neither of us really wanted to drink – it was early on a Wednesday and I had to wake up early the next day – I ordered it for just a sip: “spiked acai tea” which was described as green tea vodka, acai liqueur, acai berry juice and lychee. Pretty bland, actually, with nothing particularly standing out, but with mild flavors, it did well.
First up, we were served what the menu said was: “xiaolongbao soup dumplings: pork/crab/linguica sausage/green onion/jalapeno ginger black vinegar” – which sounds like a nice mix of the two cuisines (what little I know of Sao Paulo, anyway). Once I was served, however, my face fell. I have no problem with fusion (in fact, one of my favorite restaurants is fusion) – it was more the misnomer. I really dislike when I’m told the name of a dish and when it comes, it is some approximation of that dish – tell me it’s reinterpreted, reinvented, deconstructed, but don’t simply tell me these are xiaolongbao. These are not xialongbao! They’re simply dumplings. DLS chided me to open my mind and try them, but matters weren’t helped when the first one I ate boasted no soup whatsoever inside. He seemed surprised and said “there’s soup… just very little.” My next few dumplings, however, had much more soup, and fared much better – the savory, rich pork meat, with the slight hint of ocean from the crab, came through and showed me what’s up, while the very very slight spice of the jalapeno black vinegar complemented the flavors nicely. Overall, very good juicy dumplings that made me almost regret judging them by their cover. I do wish they’d change the name or include a note that this is xiaolongbao-inspired though.
“Crispy Shanghai spring rolls: chicken/shrimp/tempero baiano/bamboo/carrot/mushroom/won bok/Sichuan-acai berry-ginger dipping sauce” came next. I was surprised how large each of our servings were – yes, we each received our own plates of each course – and sadly did not finish all of my courses. In any case, DLS noted how greasy he felt these spring rolls were, while I thought they weren’t particularly greasy but in fact a bit dry in the middle. The dipping sauce was a little cloying – go light on them, I tend to be heavy-handed when it comes to dipping, to my own downfall sometimes – but taken lightly, it was an interesting dish. Crisp shells giving way to fragrant innards – I am not one to order spring rolls at restaurants, ever, but these were decent. I really liked the ‘salad’ underneath – cooked veggies that were perfectly crisp!
“Coconut crusted bolinhos de bacalau: coconut/salt cod/potato/serrano/green onion/cachaca-soy hot mustard/sweet and sour sauce” – long time readers of Feisty Foodie might immediately see the problem here. I’m allergic to coconut. Twitter followers might realize I’ve been testing this allergy a bit, so I tried the exterior and though this time didn’t work for me, I did note that it was very coconutty and crisp. The interior was an entirely different story: creamy, smooth, almost sweet. DLS asked me why it was so creamy, and I had to look before I realized it was potato. Unfortunately, I believe most of the bacalao (salt cod) was in the exterior, so I missed out on that a bit in my potato innards. He seemed to like them though.
Main course: “Picanha steak & XO style king crab: dry aged New York strip steak/hot bean paste/broccolini/black bean ginger sauce” – the steak was cooked properly, and very tasty. The crab – or at least mine – was slightly overcooked, though DLS said his was really good (then refused to eat the rest of my piece, grrr). Again, loved the veggies and ate every last bite of those!
“Feijoada: black beans/shredded pork/linguica/tabajo beef/bacon” – this was super meaty, slightly dry, and smoky from the bacon. I liked it, but I couldn’t eat very much of it as we’d been served full sized portions of everything and I was struggling to eat any more.
Dessert! “Coconut tapioca: mango-kumquat gelee/lychee sorbet/shaved coquito nuts/micro shiso” – Yes, I know… but we each took a spoonful and immediately said “oh my gosh! this is so good!” but I was a little shy after my run-in with the earlier coconut… so I only ate a little bit before giving up. But what little I had was delicious! and DLS said this was his favorite dish of the night, going so far as to even eat some of mine – and all of my lychee sorbet, wahhh.
If you have a chance to check out the special menu at Zengo before it ends March 31, I think they are doing something very interesting here. While I took issue with the naming convention of their xiaolongbao, I found most of the dishes very tasty in their own way, and really enjoyed what I could eat. The space is lovely – super high ceilings, wooden beams hanging from the ceiling for aesthetic purposes, and a great staff. Check it out!
Please note that I enjoyed this meal compliments of Zengo & its PR. I was not paid to post my opinion about this meal, positive or negative, and do this simply to share with you a dining option available to you.