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Aug 6, 2006 06:36 AM

BIG rave for zest

so, tonight my friend and i decided to head down to lisa g's for dinner,which we'd heard so much about. SHOCK, it was closed! on a saturday night at 7:30, in the week they'd been reviewed by the republic and the new times (both favorably). we were surprised, but as we tooled about, trying to decide where to go, i suddenly remembered zest, which tucked away at 16th and indian school is a bit of an odd location, but one of the owners is a RISD alum, as am i, so I've been meaning to try it.

Honestly, if I did not know about zest through him, my friend and I (both designers) decided we'd never go in because of the garish outdoor decor of lemons, limes and oranges.

Well, let me tell you, the inside is a shock. Its gorgeous in that lovely understated way. There are so many converted houses downtown, trente cinq, coronado cafe, etc... this place has done it right. even at its busiest (and it was packed) the noise was absorbed by the walls, there was no echo. it was quiet. there was some nice music in the background and the space exhibited well some decidedly unsucky artwork. (my friends and I can't stand when places put up bad artwork to sell just to have something on the walls).

First, the wine list. Its not multipaged, but I liked how they grouped wines (sweet, medium, dark) and I decided on a cool vouvray. (its summer). my friend opted for a zestini, which arrived very orange, very sour and quite to her liking.

rather than dinner, we decided to split a few appetizers. it was so packed that rather than wait, we found a table at the bar and camped out. we decided on Shrimp and Goat Cheese Melt, Scallops with a tomatillo chipotle tartar sauce on cilantro cabbage slaw, red chili oil and avocado, and their special, a sea bass in lettuce.

Just as our appetizers came out, courtesy of our really lovely waitress Valerie, some friends showed up as well. They joined us for drinks, and decided on the Devils Lair red, a pretty full bodied red from the winelist.

First, we tried the sea bass. I wasn't sure what I was expecting, all the ingredients sounded great, but what arrived was very similar to what a dolmades and sui mai would birth: sea bass, tomatoes, fennel, and some flavorings wrapped up in a lettuce leaf took on a very greek feeling. the slaw it was served upon, a mix of fennel, lemon zest, basil, onion, and tomato was fantastic.

the scallops were next, and our favorite. 4 perfect scallops with two sauces, first the "tartar" sauce which was so not tartar. it was more like creme fraiche. and the chili oil sauce was not spicy in the least, but more of a chunky tomato reduction. wonderful flavors, it was hard not to do that embarrassing lapping up the last bit off the plate thing. (hey, i know you've thought of it too and were saved only by the social graces mom gave you)

last we dug into the shrimp and goat cheese. It arrives with a slew of kettle chips and some slices of bread, oiled and garlic'ed already. I will say, that while very good, it was eclipsed by the scallops.

Our friends eventually ordered the portabello mushroom with melted mozzarella. While good, I was underwhelmed in comparison to our other dishes (i don't know that zest is at fault for this... while I love portabellos... they often resist flavoring).

I will say that the owners came around to each table, and the place was HOPPING busy. The waitstaff was definitely attentive. We closed the place down, and the bill was really reasonable considering the amount of liquor the four of us consumed (a few glasses a piece).

the food was magnificent and I left full, but sorry we hadn't tried the entrees. First, they prepare salad tableside, which I find chaming and endearing, and the entrees looked amazing. I'm always glad to find a new local place in my area of central, and I'll definitely be back there soon.

We also noted that, it was kind of nice that unlike postino, or delux.. that this place, despite being open almost 3 years and having received good reviews throughout, hadn't yet been deemed "the in place" and thus the crowd was decidedly well mixed of older diners and younger ones, and was missing the snobby overdressed crowds that sometimes move into a restuarant when its been written up.

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  1. We were there Saturday night, too - our first time there as well! We were very impressed, loved it frankly. If it were in our 'hood, it'd be a weekly site for us no doubt.

    You must try the eggplant cheesecake next time around. It was awesome - not a dish I'd pick out, but man was it good. You're right - the salads were great, too.

    Our entrees were the only dull side of the night ... I had the King salmon special, with sweet potatoes and crispy leeks. Too smothered for my taste - good King deserves to stand on its own, I say. My wife had the Ono special, though, and it was nice, but odd composition of flavors with the chile lime drizzle on the pasta instead of the fish, like we'd expected.

    Their menu is a bit crazy for me - too many ingredients juxtaposed and described. But the delivery is good - the food on the table was solid, the service terrific and fun atmosphere.

    Also, I thought the prices were pretty acceptable. Especially since I just went in Basis last week and they'd raised their prices again ... nothing under 24 dollars. These are neighborhood places, not destination restaurants. You can't charge $34 for a chorizo stuffed six ounce filet mignon with whipped potatoes.

    We took some lemon pound cake to go and had it for breakfast Sunday morning with the fresh berries - man was that better than if we'd stuffed it down at 11 the night before! Zest gets a thumbs up from us, that's for sure!


    1. haha! we were the VERY loud table in the corner by the bar, we must have crossed paths.

      Interesting, about the entrees. A massive pork chop passed us by and we were like... "oooooh. shoulda ordered..."

      I know some places follow the "charlie trotter method" as I call it.... a zillion ingredients. Its great if you like them all, and quite a talent to coordinate that, but if you dislike even one ingredient, you're kinda screwed. That said, I was really impressed by how they paired flavors in the appetizers.

      I probably wouldn't have chosen fish as an entree, but they did it well as an app, for the future....

      1. okay, i so loved zest, that i took someone last night for a dinner meeting.

        i had to get the scallops again, but he got the lasagna and you're right. it WAS to die for.

        we had a lovely waiter who was just terribly gracious and attentive.

        my guest had the sangria, while I did the vouvray again, the sangria just.. doesn't even taste like wine. Its amazingly good and light.

        For dinner we did the meatloaf and osso bucco and both were truly spectacular.

        normally, i never buy dessert out, but my guest suggested it, and as soon as the word "fondue" appeared before me, I was in.

        its a chocolate and grand marnier with different fruits and cakes. I will say that the grand marnier gives it a great flavor, but also dilutes the chocolate so it doesn't stick easily to the cakes and fruit (which are also cut so small as to fall in easily). that said, the chocolate and the cake were delicious.

        Overall, another rave, and I've added this to my list of neighborhood haunts.

        1. They need to give you a discount for spreading the good word. Thanks for the review.

          I haven't dined there yet. The one time we tried to go(last fall, I think?), we showed up on a Saturday night without ressies and were met with a 90 minute wait. I don't for one moment blame them, that was us not planning.

          But it's on the list. There's just so many new spots opening up all around central that the list just keeps growing and growing and growing...


          1. i wish :)

            actually we did the same on Sat. night, and ended up, happily, at at table at the bar. infact, given the opportunity, i'd grab a bartable again.

            there was a lamb shank dish that I plan on getting to know next time I'm there !