The third FDC in the nation’s capitol was a special one. Not only did we have an out of town visitor (hi, Steph!) and an in town visitor (hi, Bobby!), but it also got me in my purest FDC form. Worn out v-neck t-shirt? Check. Cargo shorts? Check. Sneakers? Check. I even gave Zentan, our chosen spot for the night, a bonus of 40 minutes worth of sweat accumulated walking from my apartment in 90 degrees and humidity. Juh welcome, Zentan.
One thing Zentan definitely has going for it is an excellent drink namer. Cocktails on the menu included such absurdities as “Waiting for the Milkman” and “Wasabi Hypotenuse”, which sounded a lot more like pretentious modern art projects than…pretentious drinks. Not all the names were excellent (mine was the really dirty sounding “The Booch 2.0”), but a lot of creativity was clearly put into the cocktail list. It also helped that they were tasty. The best of the bunch was probably the Sake Swooner, some crazy combination of vanilla and kumquats and lemongrass; it tasted like the fanciest candy you ever ate. The downside is that Zentan has a good drink namer, but a bad drink pricer. Those bad boys really hit the ol’ pocketbook pretty hard (for those of you still living in the 20’s and using the word “pocketbook”).
Zentan’s food menu is split up into appetizers, robata (Japanese for “various skewers”), and sushi. From the appetizers, we ordered edamame, age yasai, Brussels sprouts, and dumplings. The edamame were kind of your standard deal. A little unevenly salted, but always a good start to the meal. Age yasai is Zentan’s crispy seasonal vegetables. Their definition of vegetable was a little loose; it was potatoes and fried sage. Everyone’s review of that dish was similar, which consisted of mumbling “It’s hot” as if they had just made the classic mistake of popping a fresh pizza roll in their mouth (a mistake I make every time I’m in the same room as pizza rolls). The Brussels sprouts, as has often happened at FDC, were by far the best appetizer. They were covered in this super flavorable sesame vinaigrette and were crispified to perfection. The dish also came with peas, which was a basically a chopsticks master class. You ever try to grab an individual pea with chopsticks? It’s basically impossible, and also super unsatisfying because your reward is, you know, a pea. Nico, however, put things in perspective. Were they actually peas, or just tiny Brussels sprouts? Those “peas” were perhaps just teenage veggies with potential. Mind. Blown. The scallop/sea bass dumplings, which had so much promise, were kind of a miss for me. I really enjoy seafood, but these were really fishy. Like, any-location-the-Mystery-Machine-breaks-down level fishy.
From the robota, we got skewers of various different proteins and then “skewers” of asparagus. I’m not sure what we expected when we ordered skewers of asparagus, but it was literally just a plate of asparagus with a pat of butter on top. No complaints on the taste, but about as simple as it gets. This too was a master class in chopsticks. I know my dexterity is pretty weak in most arenas, but even Ariel knew about the dinglehopper, so let’s get chopsticks outta here (on a related note, splitting food with only chopsticks is really difficult). The other skewers were a pork meatball, steak, and salmon. The first two were solid (well cooked, well seasoned, etc), but that salmon…to give you an idea of what we thought of the salmon skewer, here are our reviews: “Ooooo”, “Oh wow”, “Oh Wow!”, “OH WOW”, [eyes roll back in head with pleasure]. The salmon just melted in your mouth, was so flavorful, and very…uh…oh wow.
On the sushi front, the salmon was also the star of the show. We ordered various rolls of various sea critters, but it was the Cherish Maki roll that elicited another round of “oh wows” from the table. That roll was a made up of salmon, avocado, pineapple, jalapeno, cucumber, and some sort of orangey glaze. The salmon was a light buttery vessel for the rest of the flavors in the roll. Wowie wow was it good. I usually go with rolls with the word “fire” in the name (we actually ordered two of those, which were also super solid), but the Cherish Maki roll took us all to church. I’m glad fish are super dumb, because I just want to eat that sushi roll forever and not have it weigh on my conscience one iota. Also goes without saying that the sushi was also a chopsticks master class for me.
I’ll remember Zentan for the individual bites rather than the meal as a whole (and damn were those memorable bites great). It certainly lends itself to trying a whole lot of little bites of food. They also must have a senior discount, because we were the few the proud by 10pm. Lastly this is certainly no hidden gem on the price front (I think Nico about passed out when he saw our bill), so kind of typical DC on that front and I was actually still a little hungry after we left. Becky probably summed up the best in her notes to me, which ended with “I LOVE SUSHI!” Last but not least, Zentan marks the return of the om nom scale, to this point reserved for novelty items from Taco Bell. Overall, Zentan checks in at a solid 3 out of 4 om noms (check back to The Dabney and The Royal to see how they stacked up!)