Dinner at Zengo – October 3, 2014

With so many restaurants trying to do fusion, it’s remarkable how many of them fail. Zengo however will never miss the mark. Their take on Latin/Asian inspired cuisine will make you sit up and take notice. A lot of what they do is very sublime, but your taste buds will be the judge here.

I found my experience at Zengo to be much more then the blending of 2 ethnic cultures. They have truly mastered the fine art of combining Asian, primarily Japanese, and flavors from many Latin American countries into harmonious delicious dishes . There were no bad choices, everything was poised, with just the right amount of heart and soul.

Hugo Ignacio, from Mexico, was my waiter for the evening. He previously worked at Clafoutis, La Sandia, and Cupa Café in Beverly Hills, before coming to Zengo. His happy demeanor made my experience very memorable.

Steven Castro is the general manager and Executive Chef for the past 2 years. He started at 15 ½ at Burger King as a dishwasher, graduated high school at 17 and went to culinary school at the prestigious Cordon Blue. You can tell Steven is dedicated to satisfying everyone’s needs at Zengo.

Richard Sandoval gets involved in lots of events and charities: they will be making Arepas, a South American corn cake, at The Breeders cup on Oct 31. He has his 2-empanada lady’s make those 1000 Arepas in 2 hours in house, which is remarkable considering how time consuming they can really be! In October $1.00 from every meal will go to the Drink Pink – Susan G. Komen Foundation for breast cancer.

Here’s what I tried:


Chardonnay, 2011 Santa Diena, Central VLY, CH. You can drink this with the scallops or any of the raw fish dishes. It is subtle and can add to the fresh fish flavors.

Malbec, 2012 Casillero del Diablo, Rapel VL, CH. Hands down, do this one with the pork ribs, it will make you very happy.

Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011 Louis M Martin, Sonoma, CA. This wine went very nicely with the Zengo fried rice, as well as the mashed potatoes. I tried it with all of the fish dishes, but this is what I would recommend.

Pomelo Mezcal Margarita with Mezcal, Pomelo, Citrus, Grapefruit Bitters. This one did not make the cut for me; I would order the Jalapeno orange margarita instead.

Jalapeno Orange Margarita with Tequila, Orange, Serrano. The perfect amount of sweet and sour, this would be my go to margarita.

Ceviches & Tiraditos:

Tuna Tiradito with ponzu, Avocado, Fresno, Cilantro, Sesame. The tuna is an A+ grade, and is floating in the ponzu sauce. The pepper adds a nice element of heat to the dish.

Sushi Rolls:

Achiote Shrimp Tempura Roll, Avocado, Jicama, Chile Limon, Chile Torreado Aioli, Charred Scallion. With this dish you really aren’t aware that you’re eating anything that has Latin ingredients in it. The sauce does have a slight bit of tropical essence to it, but other then that it’s just really fantastic sushi to me!

Dim Sum & Antojitos:

TK Sea Bass Tiradito with Avocado-Yuzu Puree, Salsa Negra-Soy Sauce Tomato, Radish, Cilantro, Crispy Shallots. Like sashimi but with a built in Latin sensibility, this was high on my list as well.

Adobo Sweet ‘N Sour BBQ Pork Ribs, Chayote Slaw, Hoisin BBQ Sauce, Cilantro. A smidgen on the spicy side, but the sweet goodness, and tender ribs make this so spectacular.

Soups & Salads:

Miso Soup with Chipotle, Tofu, Tomato, Wakame, Truffle Oil. There is just something so different about this miso soup. Not your ordinary miso soup, this one is light-years away from most. It was so good I really had to finish the whole bowl.

Main Dishes:

Pan Seared Scallops, Pork Belly, Mushroom, Squash, Corn. Very savory, with nice delicate flavors. The scallops or only heightened by the woody aromas that come with the pork belly nuances.

Chipotle Miso Glazed Black Cod, Daikon, Lemon Togarashi Aioli, Kabayaki Sauce. The main attraction is the fish, and its delicate miso glaze, its got more Asian influences then Latin, so for me this dish was a real show stopper. The presentation is like a golden tower, crisscrossed fish and vegetables on bed fluffy white rice.


Manchego Mashed Potato, Cream, Butter. These potato’s are very rich and creamy, just what the doctor ordered.

Brussels Sprouts with Apple, Lemongrass Mojo. A nice take on this ever-popular dish the Brussels sprout are cooked to a good soft consistency and the apple works very well with the blended flavors.

From The Wok:

Zengo Fried Rice, Shrimp, Duck, Pork, Egg, Snow Pea, Carrot. I really loved this rice, it very much like Chinese fried rice but has an extra zest that you cant quite put your finger on.


Apple Custard Cake with miso ice cream, fennel and anglaise. The cake is filled with great moist apple flavor, it is almost refreshing.

Chocolate Banana Cake with Chocolate Agave Sauce, Salted Caramel, Banana Ice Cream. The ice cream on this is so delectable; the cake was not so bad either.

Chef Richard Sandoval runs and operates a lot of restaurants but like Midas, everything he touches turns to gold. And with 18 restaurants, he obviously knows what it takes to market his Latin-Asian inspired cuisine. At places like: Ambar, Bahia, El Centro, La Biblioteca, La Hacienda, La Sandia, Masa 14, Maya, Pampano, Raya, Raymi, Tamayo, Toro Latin Gastrobar, Toro Toro, T&T, Venga Venga, Venga Venga Express and Zengo.

Since opening 5 years ago their menu has changed. A year ago they brought in big flat screen TV’s, for their football promotions called football madness with $5.00 small plates. They also host chamber mixers.

Latin/Asian inspired décor, with high ceilings, low couches and chairs. The patio is very inviting for an open-air meal, with a great Santa Monica view.

I am told that their Brunch is fantastic, which includes American favorites: fries, hot dogs, beer, and burgers. They provide a DJ, with bottomless food, and bottomless drinks, it’s one big party. The Dinner clientele is intimate, there are always new people trying this wonderful cuisine. Zengo is truly a hidden gem in Santa Monica.


395 Santa Monica Pl

Santa Monica, CA 90401

(310) 899-1000



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