It takes two cuisines (Chinese and Latin) to tango in New Rochelle
Zen Tango abounds in sever-al things, including portion size, but we’ll get to that. What it abounds in most are incongruities. There’s the name itself, the meditative Zen and the incendiary tango. There’s the languid tropical dÃ©cor set into the cement anonymity of a Radisson tower. And there’s the cuisine, billed as Chinese-Latin but dominantly Caribbean, chef Denzil Richards’s ethnicity (he’s Jamaican).
But incongruities can be appealing; inconsistencies cannot, and Zen Tango abounds in those, too. Walk in and the welcome is warm and gracious; sit down and the menu’s miniscule, condensed typeface is maddening. The selections sound intriguing; order three of them early evening in a near-empty dining room, and they’re unavailable. Listen to the waiter’s introduction and he’s charming; ask about the details of the lobster and he’s confused. But Chef Richards has an impressive provenance, having cooked at Manhattan’s Le Bernardin, Picholine, and Asia de Cuba, and we’re eager to give him a try. And though we might not be able to read the menu very well, the billowing cascade of drapes, creamy white banquettes, and swaths of clouded glass are a vision.
Now about that portion size. The menu explains that portions are large, noting prices for either individual or group, with plates of bountiful flavors to be shared by adventurous palates. That’s the Tango part, I guess; the Zen part urges finding “inspiration in the enlightment (sic) of one’s soul through the experience of taste, sound, sight, and feel joining as one.”
Wow. We’ll be happy with just dinner, thank you, and here it is, a pupu platter of menu appetizers like duck-breast-laden spring rolls, spicy jerk-seasoned chicken wings, scallion-flecked sweet-and-sour beef, skewered chicken satay and teriyaki shrimp, some of them oversauced, all of them delicious. We can only gape at the size of the chopped salad—“My whole front lawn,” marvels my friend David—though it’s diminished by a bland Green Goddess dressing. Chef Richards’s flavor sorcery soars in a special of smoky, buttery mushroom soup, then crashes in a miso soup that approaches beef bouillon-cube dysfunction.
But the sorcerer is back with a vengeance with tropical fruit-marinated roasted chicken accompanied by a starchy dice of malanga root, taro in its American guise. Tender baby-back pork ribs—the whole sow, by the breadth of them—glisten in an unctuous slather of citrus and teriyaki with a cooling foil of pineapple and yucca mojo. The braised suckling pig I covet is one of the dishes the kitchen is out of, so I make do with the mahi-mahi, no hardship due to
its sesame-miso drizzle, sweet, crisp
plantain-and-toasted-coconut crust, and side of lemony grilled hearts of palm.
Gorgeous and hefty, the entrÃ©es form a culinary plus-size model contingent. But the pre-TrimSpa Anna Nicole Smith of the bunch: the strapping lobster Thai-Pei, rosy flesh spilling out of its split shell, perfumed with curry, coconut, and ginger, a tangle of pale plantain crisps its platinum coif. My husband swoons, cooling off with gulps of a buttery Beringer Chardonnay, and a lychee-infused sake sangria vibrant as Tokyo’s Ginza.
At dessert we play pudding-go-round, our waiter apologizing—again—that the rum bread pudding we ordered is out, but a tres-leche pudding is in. Not a crushing blow, since in my book rum can’t hold a candle to the lushness of condensed milk, here launching prosaic pound cake to the stratosphere. But I’m quickly earthbound with the gluey custard and sagging caramelized cap of the ginger crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e, then rocketed back again by the molten silk of the chocolate cake. What a ride Zen Tango is, if only it would soar more frequently.
One Radisson Plz., New Rochelle
Lunch, Mon. to Sat. 12-3 pm
Dinner, Mon. to Thur. 5-10:30 pm, Fri. and Sat. 5-11 pm