I admit it: I'm not really a fan of Zengo (781 7th St. NW)... but I was intrigued by the idea of Richard Sandoval's new concept of launching his Test Kitchen. Every few months, Sandoval and his culinary team are featuring the cuisine and spirits of one Latin and one Asian country in their special TK menu.
Sandoval's team married Argentina and the Philippines for their second time around. Three cocktails, two small plates, two large plates and a dessert comprise this fun and interesting combination, offered for dinner through March 31.
Off the cocktail menu, I really liked the Guava Mate with its gin base, guava, yerba mate and lime mixed in. Sweet. The Calamansi-Papaya Punch was also good, with a stronger and tougher density. The rum-based drink with midori, calamansi and papaya mixed in had a greater kick, but since I prefer sweeter drinks, I finished off my Guava Mate with zeal and slowly consumed the Calamansi.
Both small plates were solid and filling. I preferred the Filipino Lumpia Spring Rolls for the taste, texture and non-greasy feel. Made with ground chicken, shrimp, cumin, and sweet and sour sauce, these were are the best spring rolls I have had in the city.
The Oxtail Humitas were quite rich, and after two bites of the Argentinian tamal, peanut sauce, Tamarind and coconut milk, I put my fork down to save room for the two large plates to come. If I had to choose between the two, I would get the spring rolls, but any diner should try both.
No debate either on which large plate I preferred: the Bacolod Filipino BBQ Chicken, consisting of lemongrass/chile-marinated chicken with sides of coconut rice, pickled tropical fruit and red chimichurri. All the flavors blended together and had a lovely, soothing taste. I especially liked the coconut rice for its almost mashed potato-like consistency, thick and sticky, exactly as good rice should be.
The Tagalog-Style Churrasco Steak was off in flavor for me. I thought the steak was too tangy with its calamansi citrus-soy marinade. Not even the cute grilled onion, lemongrass mojo and green herb chimichurri could tone down the tanginess -- or maybe it added to it. It was just a bit overwhelming.
I did enjoy the Sweet Potato Tostones. Blanched almost with a coating of caramelization, the sweet potato had a finish akin to a plantain. Again, since I like the sweet, this was quite perfect for me.
The Dulce De Leche Brazo Mercedes was a great finish to the Argentina-Philippines TK menu. Rolled like a cinnamon bun, the Dulce De Leche stood alone with a swath of lemongrass-scented granita and green mango ceviche. The ceviche accompanied the fluffy and calming Dulce De Leche nicely. I enjoyed being able to eat dessert after a very full meal and not have a too-tired stomach.
All in all, it's a very strong TK menu for Zengo. It was definitely my favorite meal at this restaurant, and I highly recommend ordering the entire menu.