SM PLACE ‚Äî I‚Äôve always been a fan of fusion cuisine, especially when ambitious chefs are involved. They don‚Äôt just take different forms of cookery from regions and combine them. That‚Äôs too easy. The accomplished ones play with cuisines from different parts of the globe and somehow make it all work.
That‚Äôs the case at Zengo, Chef/Owner Richard Sandoval‚Äôs Latin-Asian eatery on the third floor of Santa Monica Place. Everything is well balanced and flavorful, making for a fun dining experience.
The chicken wings are truly some of the best I have eaten in town, combining the sweet with the heat perfectly for a mouth-watering snack. I‚Äôve also been a fan of Sandoval‚Äôs ancho-rubbed beef shortribs. They‚Äôre slow-cooked and come served off the bone on a pillow of manchego mashed potatoes. The meat is so tender, juicy and full of flavor that it‚Äôs hard to put the fork down.
Sandoval‚Äôs attention to detail and his willingness to experiment with spices and cooking techniques are reasons why Zengo has been able to survive while neighboring establishments have closed shop. The restaurant spaces are just so huge that the rent must be burdensome. And while locating restaurants on the third floor of the takes advantage of the view and cool ocean breezes, there are no shops up there so it‚Äôs hard to get people to make the climb. The proposed ArcLight theatre should help drive traffic and keep these restaurants in the black.
Sandoval has had some help from a good marketing team, unveiling a successful all-you-can-eat brunch that packs the outdoor patio on weekends. You get unlimited drinks and dishes for a reasonably $35. Coupled with the excellent view of the Third Street Promenade, it‚Äôs one of the better brunch deals in town.
Trying to capitalize on that success, Sandoval has expanded the concept to now include the dinner menu. For $59 you get unlimited small plates and entrees, plus a selection of cocktails, beer and wine (for two hours at a time). It‚Äôs definitely a steal considering my favorite dishes, the shortribs and chipotle miso-glazed black cod, can run as much as $29 per plate. And trust me, two hours is plenty of time to fill your belly and get a nice buzz from their refreshing cocktails. My favorite is the limonada de fresco, sweet, but not tart. It‚Äôs like taking a bite out of a fresh watermelon. The drinks aren‚Äôt as stiff as I would like. That would be my only complaint.
I visited the restaurant on a recent Tuesday night and I could see why Sandoval needed to expand the “endless” concept. There were roughly four tables occupied outside and one or two inside. I felt bad for him, but it made for a very quiet and relaxing dining experience. My girlfriend and I tried the crispy chicken wings of course, as well as the crispy tofu, shrimp fried rice (with roasted corn), shortibs and black cod. We washed it all down with several cocktails and had a great evening.
In Santa Monica it‚Äôs pretty challenging to get all of that for $60 per person, which is why I recommend you check out Zengo soon before Sandoval wises up and pulls the “endless menu.”
I plan to stop by again for the pork chops, potstickers and, of course, those delectable wings.
Speaking of great dining deals, Del Frisco‚Äôs Grille has a new offering ‚Äî Sommelier Saturdays with their in-house wine professor Adem Sash.
For just $35 per person, you get a two-hour wine lesson from one of L.A.‚Äôs top sommeliers, along with some small bites like their sinfully sweet and savory Philly cheesesteak egg rolls.
The latest session was held March 29 in a private dining room and the focus was on Napa Valley, and in particular cabernet sauvignon. Sash poured three stellar cabs from Napa, but each one from a different winery to show how varied they were depending on where the particular grapes used were grown. I had no idea that grapes from the same vineyard can produce completely different wines, even if they are grown just 100 yards from another.
Some much impacts the grapes, such as the amount of sunlight and fog each one is exposed to. Soil also plays a big role, as does that amount of rain water the grapes receive. Sash did an excellent job of walking us through all of this, preparing a detailed presentation that was interactive and loaded with information. No question went unanswered. And Sash even broke out one of his favorites, giving us the lowdown on which wineries to hit if we ever make it up to Napa. That information is priceless.
Up next is a class on spring wines set for April 26. I hear Sash will also tackle the differences between pinot noirs from different regions and oaked vs. unoaked chardonnay in future classes.
If you go
395 Santa Monica Place
Santa Monica, Calif.
Del Frisco‚Äôs Grille
1551 Ocean Ave. Suite 105
Santa Monica, Calif.