Birthday Adventures: Zengo

Happy birthday to THE most special girl today! Of course while I could never think of a celebration quite worthy of Julia, we did manage to have several highly noteworthy meals in DC this weekend in honor of her further foray into her 20's. I'll highlight a few of the weekend’s culinary highlights this week.

And start with...

Zengo: A highly popular, high-energy restaurant in DC's Chinatown that manages to fuse Mexican cuisine with several Asian cuisines (including Indian). The slightly peculiar-sounding result was actually quite interesting and well, awesome! The menu included a sushi section, a small plates section, an entrees section and a noodles/rice section. The sushi all looked interesting including a complex vegetarian roll, a Kobe beef roll and several ceviches. But for the prices and the waitresses' skimpy descriptions, we decided to skip this section in lieu of the even-more-interesting alternatives.

We ended up trying a side of their plantains to start with, which were good for plantains, being not too sweet but crispy and with a nice little unnamed sauce that was half spicy and half creamy. Compared with the rest of the food though, they were relatively unmemorable. Julia, along with her mango mojito, ordered the crispy tofu blocks entree with grilled bok choy and other accoutrements and found it to be fabulous. Actually one of the better and more interesting entrees she has had at a restaurant in a while.

I agreed, despite not being limited to the vegetarian items. I finally decided on a two Mexican-Japanese fusions. The first were mini crispy wonton tacos containing sushi rice, ahi tuna and mango salsa, with a dollop of fresh guacamole. Yes, they were as heavenly as they sound, with the crunch of the shells and the vinegar of the rice mixing perfectly with the sweet of the mango and the savory of the tuna and avocado. My only complaint was that they were a little messy to eat, but hey, who cares when they're tacos? I also wish the sushi rice was slightly more prominent. Nevertheless, these were comprised of an exquisite combination of flavors that had more uniqueness than most restaurants ever manage.

My second dish was a rice noodle bowl that was filled with awesome ingredients like tender, delicious pork shoulder, a soft poached egg, mushrooms and countless other veggies. It was a real treat and was very spicy. The flavors mixed together well on the palette and surprisingly lightly with the thin rice noodles keeping everything from sagging. The pork itself was the tastiest and most tender pork I have tried in quite a while, and the dish was worth it even for that. It was very pleasing and was a second testament at Zengo to the wonders that combining cuisines can create.

While we were licking our lips to the crispy tofu, ahi tuna, plantains, pulled pork and intriguingly delicious cocktails, the waitress managed to slip a dessert menu onto our table. This included several interesting desserts and from these, Julia ordered a very nice lemon cake with a lemon custard and a black sesame cracker accent. But the real standout here was the churros and chai, which I quickly recognized as a must-order. Once she tried them, Julia quickly agreed. They were divine; as divine as you'd ever expect a churro to be. Tiny little, ruffled, fresh, warm, soft, donut-like cigars with a perfect layer of cinnamon and sugar around them. And a tiny little shot of chai-flavored chocolate mousse and cream to dunk them in. Now that's coffee and donuts! Our mouths are still watering over those.

Zengo was a fabulous find, although it wasn't much of a gamble, since I've heard so many good things in the past. But now that we've tried it ourselves and left completely satisfied, except for the lingering thoughts of longing for dishes we haven't tried yet, it has definitely quickly soared to one of our favorite DC restaurants. When we actually talk about a restaurant for an entire day afterward, we know that it was definitely a memorable experience.

Wow and I even wrote twice as much about it as I was going to, so I'll have to save the rest of the birthday-celebration descriptions for later this week. Plus, my tasty-looking pictures are unavailable due to technical difficulties, so you'll have to check back in soon when I can finally post up the Zengo pictures. In the meantime, Happy Birthday to Julia again!

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