What is surprising is how unremarkable it was. Zentan, the Asian inspired high end cuisine place by Susur Lee is not particularly BAD. It is just that now a few days after the Restaurant Week encounter, very little of it registers, positively OR negatively. Lee, he of the flowing mane of Top Chef Masters, was lauded for being a prodigy. Indeed in my breakdown of Marcus Samuelsson’s victory on that show a random reader wrote an angry screed defending Susur as a genius. Certainly the judges were ga gaa, virtually the entire season. Now, while Zentan was not his flagship restaurant, there was still a lot of reason to be encouraged. This isn’t West End Bistro, where Eric Ripert lends his name and charging Eric Ripert prices to a place that does not serve fish. Put simply, this was set up as the sort of place that Restaurant Week is made for.
Zentan is an interesting space. The decor is a mishmash of traditional Asian themes, with a couple of unintentionally funny pictures of Lee on the wall. I started with one of the specialty cocktails, a Spicy Thai martini which feature Thai Chili infused vodka. Really, I did taste but a little heat on the back of my throat – this after a warning from the bartender. It was as if he thought I was white or something. Anyway, the Restaurant Week menu was smallish – but that is not a bad thing if they are picking out good examples of form. The waiter was not very useful in recommendations – but going with fish is always a sound idea. I started with salt/pepper calimari with a chile mayo. It was good – although my Dad thought it was a bit salty. Certainly it was not an orgasm on a plate as far as calimari’s go. Really not much of an impression. The main course was a Hong Kong style steamed fish. The sauce was soy sauce based, and pretty tasty – solid Cantonese inspiration. The fish was … well, it was fine. The same sort of descriptor applies to the panna cotta, which was served in a very tasty berry sauce, though the panna cotta itself was kind of just there.
There were not really any serious errors of execution, and the food did not taste bad. It actually was pretty good. That said, Zentan did not explode off the page – or grab me in a meaningful way. The food was good and the experience was valuable – I am glad I went. I would recommend it – but Hong Kong Palace, Sichuan Pavilion or Yamazato provide more actual transcendence. Zentan just doesn’t crackle.