Brunch is one of my favorite meals of the weekend. No rushing off to anywhere, you can drink as many brunch cocktails as you want and it’s all very leisurely and lovely. But I have four requirements for what constitutes a good brunch: 1) a wide variety of dishes from savory to sweet to choose from, 2) a selection of brunch cocktails, 3) quality coffee and 4) affordability.
So when I heard about Zengo‘s all-you-can-eat (and drink) brunch for $35 I was elated, and a bit skeptical. After all the Latin-Asian fusion restaurant located in the newishly renovated Santa Monica Place Dining Deck, seemed, well, touristy and mainstream. It has a patio terrace overlooking Third Street Promenade and Ed Hardy and Kitson across the way. I mistakenly assumed that chef Richard Sandoval’s restaurant was, like most eateries in popular tourist spots, meant to appeal to those far from home who want something comfortingly familiar and not too crazy. Yeah, even though it’s “Latin-Asian” cuisine.
But just checking in at the hostess stand gave it an air of exclusivity. Like, maybe cargo shorts and black socks won’t do here. There was no wide-open door located right by the escalator, rather we had to walk down a long, skinny open-air hallway to a large hostess stand. The hostess checked carefully to make sure we had reservations.
Once brought into the dining area, it actually felt like we were in a place other than Santa Monica. Somewhere almost tropical like a resort in Mexico. Unfortunately, on the day we went it was too chilly and windy to sit out on the terrace so we ducked inside instead.
Our waiter immediately attended to us, quick to offer suggestions, saying that on average people order about four or five dishes each. Since these were small plates, sharing is encouraged. So we started off easy with just five dishes and then ended up ordering another five when we felt we could eat more.
Hit the jump for the gallery of every single thing my bf and I had, including the cocktails which I didn’t finish but can assure you aren’t that strong anyway.
Suffice it to say, I loved this brunch. Every dish was so delicious with only one missing the mark for me, the bahn mi sliders which I couldn’t finish. Meh, pork gristle. But then again I’m not a bahn mi connoisseur, maybe gristly is how it’s done. The chipotle yellow fin tuna roll was a highlight with a long roll that seemed awfully affordable for the amount that we got.
Another fave was the Thai chicken empanadas. If anything I would have gladly placed another order of it. However, the omlettes are pricey for their small sizes at $8-$9; consider that a lox omlette (with onions, capers and boursin cheese) around the corner at Jinky’s Cafe costs about $13.
The cocktail selection was basic — mimosas, Marys, bellinis — and very morning-friendly since, as the waiter pointed out, not many people want to get blitzed for breakfast. Wuuut? Tell that to Eveleigh and Ray’s and The Stark Bar! But out of the drinks, I liked the bacon Bloody Mary the best since it tasted substantial. That’s just how I roll. And, yeah, the cocktail menu won’t be a real draw for those seeking variety, but at least the tourists (and moms) will be happy.
By the way, this was a hosted meal. I wasn’t even sure about this condition until the end when the waiter told us that it was. But before that I was perfectly up for paying the $35 a person since it was absolutely worth it. See, if you eat more than two dishes and drink more than two cocktails, you get your money’s worth right there considering dishes range in price from $7 to $12 and cocktails are in the $9-$10 range. This would be perfect to do with a group of friends. That way you can try more things, and divvying up the bill at the end of the meal would be a nonissue. We actually saw a large table of friends celebrating a birthday, a smart idea since there’s none of that “Heyy, I only had a salad and I have to pay $40?!” complications.
I would most certainly come back, maybe the next time my folks are in town or I get a group of buddies together. Hmm, birthday brunch?
By the way, there is a 2-hour table limit and, obviously, you can’t take your leftovers home.