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Apr 13, 2008 04:11 PM

Za in Pennington

Went to Za in Pennington last night with some friends and had a nice experience. Although we had the option of dining on the patio, it was a bit chilly and we opted for the dining room (which is really quite tiny). We started off with a gnocchi appetizer that was basically about five good-sized gnocchi topped with goat cheese and served in a gorgonzola sauce. It was delicious and the gnocchi were light and airy – wish there was an actual entrée that featured them, actually. Although the goat cheese was a tasty addition, I think it might have been unnecessary as there were plenty of flavors without it (and goat cheese can be more than a bit overwhelming). I had a very nice iced tea and my one friend had the ginger soda, which she really liked. It was definitely different and interesting, she said.
Everyone loved their entrees – there was not a scrap left on anyone’s plate. I had the barbecued pork chop with mashed potatoes and asparagus. The pork chop was very tender and the barbecue sauce had a nice kick to it. The mashed potatoes were delicious, although, once again, the crisp bacon bits sprinkled over top of them might have been overkill. The asparagus was tasty. One friend was delighted with her monkfish dish, and said that she particularly enjoyed the light citrus sauce that flavored it. The other had the tuna with wasabi mashed potatoes. The tuna was perfect – I don’t like fish of any kind, and I actually kind of wished I had ordered the dish for myself after tasting it. However, the wasabi mashed potatoes were not my cup of tea – I felt like the wasabi drowned out potatoes. My two friends are big sushi fans though, and they really liked the extra kick to the potatoes.
We finished up with coffee and dessert. I didn’t try my one friend’s cannoli (not the type of thing that shares well, but she did enjoy it), but I did take a bit of my other friend’s crème brulee. It was a large serving that was perfectly executed (sooo light), but I’m not a fan of amaretto (which was the dominant flavoring), so I would not have ordered it for myself. My chocolate mousse pie was very light and a nice dessert, but not terribly exciting. I kind of wish we had ordered the chocolate soufflé with our entrees, because the one that came out to another table looked and smelled heavenly. The caramel French vanilla coffee was wonderful, and came in a nice large cup.
The staff was attentive, friendly and knowledgeable. Our only complaint was the long wait between our appetizer and the entrees – with no salad or breads on the table, we really noticed the gap. Overall, we really enjoyed the meal, and we are looking forward to going back for their teatime menu.

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  1. Heather - Excellent review! Thank you.

    1. A Few Comments!
      THE GOOD
      I have been to Za a few times now. Lunch, decent, nothing stellar. Dinner, same reaction... I will say that the chicken liver mousse was exquisite and I had to hold back from licking the ramekin it was served in, but my entree fell short of amazing. Luke warm, at best, mashed potatoes with a ribeye steak cut about a half an inch thick, served grey, since rare with a steak so thin is virtually impossible.
      THE BAD
      A friend's son once ordered a sandwich at lunch and asked for a no chicken version, but liked the other ingredients, as they are vegetarian. The request was refused, and the unhappy family of four paid for their bottled water and left.
      THE UGLY
      The waiters do not really get all of the tips that are left for them.

      4 Replies
      1. re: fletchphil

        Out of curiousity.....where do the tips go then??

        1. re: fletchphil

          Yeek! Y'know, another place did that to my boyfriend with the ribeye cut - thin and grey, just like you described. I felt so bad for him as he had been really looking forward to a good steak dinner that night. Is there a reason places feel they can skimp on that cut of meat?

          1. re: fletchphil

            Your post reminded me of a trick I learned a couple of years ago. If all you can get are thin steaks under an inch thick, cook them half frozen. You can get a good char on the outside and keep it rare in the middle. This works well on a grill and I imagine it would also work just as well in a pan or under the broiler.

            1. re: fletchphil

              Za has plenty of vegetarian salads and at least one or two main courses that are vegetarian. Our chef does not take the main ingredient out of a dish, which is as it should be. Za is not a diner.

            2. Nice report. Our dinner at Za last year was good, not anything to complain about but nothing really stood out.

              Our problem is that a favorite restaurant of ours, The Blue Bottle Cafe, is only a few miles away.

              1 Reply
              1. re: tom246

                I have been dying to try that place. But for our last "Big Girls Grown-Up Dinner" we went to the Blue Moon Cafe, so we decided we should step away from the Blue-Hopewell theme:-)

              2. My wife and I went to Za for our Anniversary in February and couldn't have been happier with our meals. We had the gnocci appetizer too, and loved it. The hummus salad I had was fantastic. The entrees were good, but the appetizers and salads were the best things on the night. The staff was very nice as well. The odd thing was walking thru the kitchen when we arrived. Anyway, it was an enjoyable place and we'll go back.

                1. The original comment has been removed