Experimental Menu from Zengo in Chinatown, Washington D.C.


The word “fusion” gets tossed around so liberally in restaurants these days that it’s become more of a vague concept than any sort of fundamental practice. However, at Richard Sandoval’s Zengo in Washington D.C., fusion is very much alive and well.

The restaurant offers unique fare from both Latin and Asian influences, and if you haven’t checked out their brunch — which I’ve previously written about — you may be missing one of the best kept secrets for everyone’s go-to weekend meal.

With their Test Kitchen series, Zengo gets more experimental, as they pair foods and flavors from one Latin and one Asian country which aren’t normally seen together. The result is something which is entirely new, while still showcasing its recognizable roots from differing regions and cultures.

Zengo is currently in the midst of their second Test Kitchen run, this time featuring cuisine from the Philippines and Argentina. The Test Kitchen: Argentina-Philippines menu includes several small bites, entrees, cocktails and a dessert.

Begin with the Oxtail Humitas, an Argentinean tamale with peanut sauce, tamarind and coconut milk, topped with fresh baby cilantro. The tamale is perfectly light and the rich combination of textures and flavors in the dish will leave you wanting more. The other small plate is Filipino Lumpia Spring Rolls, fried spring rolls stuffed with ground chicken and shrimp, and served with a special sweet and sour sauce.

Moving onto the entrees, the Tagolog Style Churrasco Steak is exceptional, coated in a calamansi (a sour Filipino citrus fruit) -soy marinade and served with a green herb chimichurri and charred onions. The dish is also served with tender sweet potato tostones coated in a zesty lemongrass mojo sauce, which provided a great contrast in flavor and texture to the juicy steak.

The second entree is the Bacolod Filipino BBQ Chicken, made with a lemongrass-chile marinade and topped with fresh coconut shavings, served with sticky coconut rice, picked tropical fruit, and a red chimichurri. The chicken featured a nice and crispy, charred skin, and each component of the dish packed in a lot of flavor, although it perhaps was missing that extra something which would have elevated it to the level of the steak.

If you still have any room left, the Dulce de Leche Brazo Mercedes is a layered pastry filled with luscious Dulce de Leche sauce and served with lemongrass scented granitas and diced green mango “ceviche”, marinated in lime juice. The components actually work quite well together, and the refreshing granitas balances out the heavy pastry.

The best of the three Test Kitchen drinks is the Guava Mate, which bursts with fresh, vibrant fruit. The Coconut-Cider Martini won’t be for everyone, as the anise from the Aguardiente provides a licorice flavor which also masks much of the coconut, while the Calamansi Papaya Punch is an easy-drinking tropical drink with both rum and midori.

Zengo’s special Test Kitchen menu items, denoted by a “TK”, are included on the restaurant’s full dinner menu. Test Kitchen: Argentina-Philippines will be offered until end of March.

*This article was first published on Yahoo Voices on January 28, 2013