Zentan has been on my restaurant wish list since reading a Washington Post review from Tom Sietsema last September. “Zentan’s new chef brings a little more spark” is good news. Prior to that, Eater DC lists Zentan in their “New Chef Heatmap: Restaurants Worth a Revisit.” I haven’t dined at Zentan since March 2011, and am interested in investigating how new Chef Jennifer Nguyen has changed the menu and focus. My original post titled “Missing the Zen at Zentan,” reflects my lack of enthusiasm about our meal at that time.
Zentan’s menu features Japanese inspired-small plates. From the website: “With hints of both Asia and espionage, the restaurant’s mod yet eclectic décor is as alluring as its delicate sashimi and hand-crafted cocktails. Zentan — inspired by the Mandarin word for “detective” — is a nod to its hotel host’s namesake, former CIA Director William Donovan.”
There are a sufficient number of fish and vegetable options that appear worth examining, and since my three dining companions keep kosher, the timing to revisit Zentan feels right.
Being a restaurant review blogger is somewhat like espionage. I must be acutely aware of the surroundings and details of the meal, service, and experience in order to write about it. I have to admit, I am not always on my game. We are at Zentan with a couple we have never dined with before, and it seems more appropriate to focus on the conversation rather than the details of the dinner. I may have declined to write about the experience at all, except for what happens after the meal.
Dino kale salad is the first sign of evidence of change at Zentan. Even though I enjoyed the Zentan’s previous signature dish of Singapore slaw, this is a refreshingly tasty blend of kale, roasted cauliflower, fugi apples, red grapes, and ginger miso.
Tom Sietsema writes about the addition of the robata grill under Chef Nguyen. Dietary restrictions limit us to grilled shishito peppers. They are labelled as mild Japanese peppers, but there is an inconsistency in the peppers and varying levels of spice tolerance at our table. It’s hard to eat many of these. They are good, but I expect that the other dishes coming off the robato grill are more filling (and thrilling).
Maki rolls at Zentan incorporate the James Bond theme. The rolls include “007” with yellowtail, avocado, crispy shallot, cilantro, yuzu, tobiko, and miso yolk. “Skyfall” incorporates tuna, salmon, yellowtail, and avocado seaweed. Then there is “golden eye” with tempura sweet potato, seasonal mushroom, taro root, crispy shallots, and avocado.
Here is where the details are somewhat of a mystery to me, as I know we had a few more dishes that I can’t recall. I’ll skip right over to dessert, since I have photos to serve as evidence.
I like the new consistency at Zentan. Everything we have tasted is fresh and flavorful. It doesn’t take a seasoned detective to sense the positive changes in the food here.
As we are driving home, something triggers my memory, and I realize we weren’t served one of the dishes we ordered. Seasonal vegetable salad with roasted heirloom beets, pistachio, poached Asian pear, and goat cheese coulis would have been a welcome addition to our meal.
I email Shawn to explain that we had a variety of small plates, and simply didn’t notice the missing dish. The next day I have an email with a gift certificate for the vegetable salad, plus a glass of wine. I find this gesture so classy that my already favorable impression of the restaurant ratchets up a notch.
I can’t help but think about a recent incident at another local restaurant, where we celebrate a special occasion. The experience is not what I expect, and one of the courses is particularly disappointing. I let the restaurant know of my dismay via email. Ten days later I receive a reply from the manager, offering an explanation regarding one of the issues. He seems to be missing my point, so I expand on what I felt was lacking. No response.
If the manager of the special occasion restaurant had apologized and offered us some small token, I would have shaken off my dismay and moved on. It’s a shame because I really, really like their food. But now all I feel is a twinge of resentment. My warm fuzzies instead go to Zentan, where I am certain to return to use my certificate and spend some money in the process.