Plaudits: Washingtonian 2011 Top 100 Restaurants, Washingtonian 2010 #70
Neighborhood: 14th Street, Downtown - McPherson Square
With a Capitol Deal in hand, Official Roommate of DCWD Talia and I dropped by for a dinner at Zentan.
Zentan fits in well with the chi-chi Donovan House hotel that it sits in, a trendy restaurant with a trendy decor. The theme is black and steel, from the different-shades-of-black walls to the graphite tiles behind the long bar. In the back, behind a patterned screen door is a more casual lounge, replete with couch booths and sheer beige curtains. In the main room, seating comes in three varieties: the bar, long community-table-esque bar tables, and then an entire side full of half-booth seating except for two four-tops. Overtop are large light fixtures, platforms with stacks of different sized fake candles, and a steady stream of boom cha music.
To start, Talia ordered the Chinoise salad, romaine covered by mango, snow peas, avocado, hardboiled eggs, red peppers, cashews all in a creamy soy sauce dressing. Like Susur Lee's signature Singapore Slaw (say that five times fast), it's an at-times overwhelming but at-points delicious combination of flavor. For me, I found it to be a few tastes too many, complexity that too often came across as muddled rather than refined. Moreover, it didn't feel to in-touch with the restaurant's theme, but mostly like a "we threw together what we could find" salad.
On my end, I had the kurobuta BBQ pork belly, with almonds, pickled cherries, and wasabi. I'm a pork belly fiend, and at first taste, this was a pleasant dish. But as the weeks go on and more and more pork belly iterations come to pass, this one just didn't stand up. The cherries, a great idea in pairing the savory and the sweet, were left sort of neutered by the pickling, and the whole dish came across as one that felt like it should've been better. The pork belly was cooked well, but nothing about it screamed great.
For the "main course," Talia had the typhoon roll: spicy salmon, mango, tuna, yellowtail, and pineapple. Unlike the salad, this was a mix of strong flavors that wasn't too much, melding well into a nice sweet taste. Much like the other dishes of the meal though, both Talia and I agreed that it left us wanting, struggling to pin down just why the food couldn't make the jump from fine to good or even great.
This was both the case, and not the case with my second dish, the caramelized black cod with preserved vegetables and miso mustard. On the one hand, the cod was cooked well, but struggled to be anything more than that, receiving only a cursory amount of kick from the mustard. On the other, both Talia and I quickly identified the dish's lack: acid. Though a lemon wedge came with the fish, the whole affair would've been bettered by its mandatory inclusion pre-service.
For the hype, not as great as I thought it would be. Even the hits suffered from the "this-is-good-but-why-is-it-not-great" syndrome. Plus based on its cost, you'll need to really be creative to not end up spending a fortune.
Food Rating: ** 1/2 (out of 5)
Date Rating: 2.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Smart Casual
Bar Rating: Classy Crowd to Suits Scene
Cost: $$$$ (out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing: Head upstairs to the swanky rooftop pool. It's super trendy (and therefore not for nerds like me), but is a ton of fun.