Do You Know How to Zengo?

"Edamame are steamed Japanese soy beans," our over-eager server explained with great pride during a thoroughly narrated visit to Zengo last night. I was afraid he was going to tell us not to eat the shells. "Ceviche is raw fish marinated in citrus juices," he continued. "Del mar would be our seafood dishes, de la tierra means from the land, like pork, lamb, beef." If you didn't know Zengo was a chain before sitting down, the well-rehearsed introduction, clearly written for people who don't eat out much, should be the first clue.

Despite our reluctant facial expressions, we had the entire menu explained to us, including a play-by-play of the cocktail menu. "A caipirinha is like a Brazilian version of the mojito." Really? About mid-way through, the waiter said, "If you haven't already figured it out, Zengo combines Latin and Asian flavors." No kidding.

Ok, so I'm being a little harsh. Along with the elementary introduction to the food, the waiter delivered great service, and I realize many diners need and/or want an explanation of how to navigate an unusual menu. The "have you dined with us before?" question that irks so many diners (see Todd Kliman's Oct. 11 chat) seems more common the more fusion/tapas joints pop up. A better question would be "Would you like me to explain the menu?" That way it doesn't sound like the waiter is assuming you've never heard of edamame, and you can politely decline.

Now that that's off my chest, highlights of the meal included the crispy chicken empanadas with Oaxaca cheese and mango-curry sauce; the bite-size pulled pork arepas topped with avocado and creme fraiche; and the fluffy churros served with a delightfully rich chai chocolate sauce for dipping (overplayed in this city, yes, but fried dough is never a bad thing). The space is truly beautiful and the staff seems eager, if too much so, to please.