This past Saturday night’s dining outing proved to be a challenge from the get go in terms of finding a place that could accommodate a large party as well as offer food options that were agreeable to everyone.
Tapas are fun in theory for a big group, but it gets tough sharing with so many people, especially when guys are involved and walk away hungry. You either wind up ordering too much or too little, and it only works out if it is the right mix of people and everyone wants to share everything.
You also want a place that isn’t too over the top expensive, so that people don’t feel uncomfortable. What started as dinner for six people turned into 12, and by that point OpenTable was no longer an option. I usually love challenges like this, and after making a few phone calls, it occurred to me what I thought would be the perfect place.
Zentan is a fairly new Asian restaurant in the Donovan House hotel. The executive chef at the restaurant is Susur Lee, who some may remember from Top Chef Masters. The expansive menu varies from small plates for starters, to sushi, to larger entrée dishes. Sushi can be difficult because not everyone likes it, but I figured this place had options for both sushi and other dishes. I also knew the space was fairly large and had been there before with a large group, so securing a reservation wasn’t an issue either.
We arrived at 8pm and some of our party was already there with some drinks in hand. The bar offered some fun and creative cocktails, in addition to sake, wine, and beer. When the waiter finally got to us after we had been sitting for some time, we ordered our drinks and looked at the menu. It seemed like the drinks were taking forever, and finally, the waiter had come around and said the delay was because they ran out of flutes for the sparkling wine I had ordered. I honestly could not have cared less if it had come in a flute or a plastic cup, and it pretty much seemed silly that was the reason he had disappeared for so long.
By the time we had ordered our food it was close to 8:45, so needless to say, everyone was a little impatient waiting for the food to come. We ordered some edamame and two Donovan Platters to share with the table, which consisted of crusted vegetable dumplings, salt and pepper calamari, crab cakes, and a satay trio. Everything was tasty, but for $24 per platter, it was still barely enough food for everyone. We may have been better off just getting one or two regular appetizers instead of the sampler.
For dinner, most people ordered entrees, but Brett and I weren’t super hungry so we decided to share some sushi and an appetizer dish that I have been eyeing for some time, the Singapore Slaw. I have heard that it is one of their signature items on the menu, and the description of 19 ingredients, hazelnuts, and salted plum dressing certainly was appealing. For the sushi, we went with a slightly traditional rainbow roll of tuna, salmon, and yellowtail atop a California roll, and the Brick Roll, which consisted of spicy lobster, BBQ eel, and scallop.
I have to admit, the Slaw lived up to its reputation just from its sheer size and color alone. It was a giant tower of ingredients, although when mixed up it’s hard to tell if there really are 19 ingredients. It seemed more like five or six to us. The restaurant obviously doesn’t list them out, but it was certainly unique and different than your average green salad. That might have been a better dish to share with the group than the platter, just for its generous portion alone.
The sushi might have been the highlight for me. It was extremely fresh and flavorful, and the Brick Roll was literally shaped like small rectangular bricks. The only downside was that it was hard to pick up and we wound up having to eat those in sections.
One friend got Szechwan-style sliced duck with crepes while another got caramelized black cod, which looked like something I would order the next time we would eat there. Oddly, they recommended that people order side dishes of vegetables, but I’m surprised they didn’t inform us of how large the portions would actually be. For $6, a bowl of string beans was easily twice the size of the bowl of edamame we ordered earlier in the evening. In my opinion, I’m not entirely sure those entrees needed sides to begin with, but they were so large that we ended up sharing with those who ordered them. I should note that the string beans had this garlic sauce on them they made them slightly addictive.
By the time everything had come out, we had inhaled our appetizers so people were slowing down on the entrees fairly quickly. Despite the wait, everyone seemed to like what they ordered and the presentation was very unique.
Unfortunately, no matter how good the food may have been, a bad impression of poor service from the start is what everyone seemed to remember, but I guess that is to be expected with a larger group. However, I would think if they knew ahead of time that a large party is coming, and that the bill and order will be substantial, that they would get not one but two servers on us to make sure everything is running smoothly. I think Brett and I will be back, but it will probably be the two of us if anything.