I’ve had some great restaurant meals lately, which makes me feel even more deflated when I go somewhere with high expectations and leave disappointed. My recent dinner at Zentan left me underwhelmed, and wishing I had chosen somewhere else for a celebration dinner.
My son recently accepted a job offer for permanent, full-time employment in his chosen field. After I cried tears of joy, I exclaimed “we have to take you to dinner to celebrate!” Celebrating success with dinner out goes without saying in our family. I wanted to take him somewhere special. I also hoped to use one of the discount coupons in the growing file folder that resides in my car. Zentan seemed to fit the bill. I figured that the “inventive Global Asian cuisine” was perfect for my vegetarian son who knows his celebrity chefs. Owner Susur Lee has appeared on both Top Chef Masters and Iron Chef America.
I began to have second thoughts during our ride downtown. I hadn’t really taken much time to peruse the menu in advance. I know that Zentan is famous for the Singapore slaw featuring 19 different ingredients. But what else? I phoned the restaurant from the car and asked about vegetarian options. The hostess started telling me about all the fish dishes, so I had to explain that vegetarians do not eat fish. She countered with naming some other non-fish dishes, which was enough to calm me down.
We arrive to a crowded host station. The place is hopping. We soak in the trendy vibe. We like a trendy vibe, so we’re feeling pretty good. We begin with cocktails and I have to say that the raspberry absinthe sparkling cocktail packs a punch.
We start with the Singapore Slaw and vegetable dumplings. The dumplings are completely unremarkable. The Singapore Slaw is brought to our table and we are impressed. It is tossed table side. The mix of flavors are light and refreshing. It is tangy and crunchy and slightly sweet. This is a signature dish. At $16 for an appetizer you want it to be good. It is.
I order the Mongolian rack of lamb. It sounds like my kind of dish as it features chili mint, carrot cardamom chutney, penang peanut sauce, and glazed bananas. At $38, it should be amazing. Nope. It’s not. The lamb is a little more rare than I prefer but the main issue is that I am not tasting all the flavors that are purported to be in the dish. There are some crunchy peanuts- which I don’t particularly like. The glazed bananas are good. It’s not a bad dish but it is nothing special.
My husband orders the caramelized black cod. The dish arrives and there is perhaps three bites worth of food on the plate. He says that those three bites are tasty but he is still hungry.
My son orders a dish with eggplant and tofu. The server comes back to report that they are out of eggplant so they will make him a noodle dish instead. He is served the same dish that was described previously without the eggplant. It is basically vegetables and tofu without any discernible flavor. I want him to send the dish back. He refuses. I absolutely hate that this is his celebration dinner and he is eating something he doesn’t enjoy.
At the end of the meal I ask the server what happened with the noodle dish she promised. This is much to the chagrin of my son. The server tells us that she made a mistake with her explanation and there were not supposed to be noodles in the dish. I am clearly unhappy, which she astutely notices and offers to bring us a complimentary dessert.
She brings us banana tempura with ginger caramel sauce. I will say that Zentan knows how to cook bananas. This is a delicious dessert.
I am not terribly happy. I wanted to treat my son to a great meal, and what he got was not great at all. I will say that we missed out on some of what the restaurant is supposed to do well, which is Asian crudo, sushi, and a long list of signature rolls. Our bad.
I promised a friend, who loved her recent meal at Zentan, that I would reflect her experience in my review. They focused on the seafood and raved about the food. Duly noted!
I had a $25 off coupon- which did not even cover the cost of our drinks. I will give you a tip. There is a website called Village Vines which offers 30% off your entire bill at select restaurants. Zentan is on the list. I think its worth a try at 30% off. Here’s the link:
Wishing you a Zen-like experience.
Zentan 1155 14th Street NW Washington, D.C 20005
My rating (on a 1-5 scale): 3
Zagat rating: 21
Washingtonian’s 100 Very Best Restaurants 2011