Thursday, August 13, 2009

SoDon't

Zenzi's got swank, but its kitchen sinks

Posted on Thu, Aug 13, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Zenzi, on the industrial strip of South Orange Avenue, may not have a cafeteria cook working in the kitchen, but you'd never guess it after dining here. Many of the restaurant's 'internationalâ?� dishes are reminiscent of the sort served at an office-park commissary, just gussied up and aesthetically plated for appearances. That may have explained the handful of nine-to-fivers having lunch here, but while the beautiful dark-wood interior (a holdover from Gentry's, a far and away better restaurant with a far and away better chef) exudes a trendy power lunch motif, the vibe is anything but ' you're more apt to find baby-boomer grandmas than suits dining here. So it's hardly surprising that most of what we sampled was pap.

Take the gloppy mess of the parmesan and caper'stuffed tomato ($6), for example. As if melted cheese mixed with a giant blob of tangy mayo atop a halved beefsteak tomato wasn't bad enough, the two slabs of stale grilled bread that came with it would have served better as shoehorns. And if you're going to serve a messy dish, at least have the foresight to place more than just a fast-food napkin on the table. The fact that waiters don custom-embroidered ties but cloth napkins are inexplicably absent shows that the customer comes second at a place like this. I understand instituting cost-cutting measures during hard times, but one measly paper napkin per person? If you're going with paper napkins, have a napkin dispenser on the table at the very least.

Their 'signatureâ?� mushroom soup ($5), a creamy bisque with plenty of portobello, button and shiitake bits, had a bitter aftertaste, maybe due to the inclusion of roasted red peppers. No matter, the soup was an altogether mediocre offering. Amaretto grouper ($16) seemed an intriguing choice at first, but after seeing that healthy slab get saturated with a thick, mildly sweet sauce, then smothered under roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and capers, you couldn't help but marvel at the adulteration. The side of vegetables served alongside it was of your standard frozen-TV-dinner variety ' a soggy and bland mélange of julienned green beans, broccoli stems and florets, chopped white onions, red peppers and mushroom slices ' making for a thoroughly subpar and overcomplicated dish. The humdrum Philly cheese steak ($8) is a safe lunchtime bet ' and, one bright spot, the potato wedges were fried to perfection. Our somewhat preoccupied and inattentive server, though, neglected to ask if we wanted ketchup, or anything else for that matter. Checking in on diners after mains are delivered is Waiting Tables 101, as is refilling glasses ' ours stood empty for a good while before being replenished.

At this point, we lowered expectations for dessert, but the 'mile highâ?� key lime pie ($6), crusted with graham crackers and served in a martini glass, was pleasantly sweet and tart; the sugary Italian rum cream cake ($6) wasn't so pleasant. The same goes for the choice of music ' the adult contemporary pop proved grating and didn't suit the room. Like the music, Zenzi's attitude, service and food need an overhaul.

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