10.20.2005

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.

7 comments:

Spiral Stairs said...

Condescension is yucky. Another approach for the waiter is to say, "We have some unusual items on our menu. Do you have any questions about it?"

The "Have you dined with us before?" question is like Radio Shack asking for my zip code when I buy batteries.

Anonymous said...

This is an hilarious post. I hate when waiters waste my time with BS "explanations" that my 11 year old kid would understand. I dont need to know their name, i dont need to tell them if i've been there before, and if i ever hear their name followed by "I'll be taking care of you this evening" I'll be stabbing jaws.

Perfect service = transparent service. Water and wine should be filled before they are empty, and a follow up is expected soon after the meal arrives.

Also, when you ask if I need more time, and I say maybe 1 more minute, dont come back 25 minutes later please!

Amanda said...

During my waitressing days, I HATED it when people asked my name and then used it all night. I am not your friend, just your server. I got increasingly bitter and knew my days in the service industry were limited. =)

Anonymous said...

This sounds like either a) the waiter didn't know what the stuff was before he was trained or b) the management is coaching him to say it, which would be absolutely ridiculous. If it's the former, it's at least a little endearing.

rdl said...

I had dinner there last weekend after reading this post, so I was braced for a tedious explanation of the menu. I was pleasantly surprised when our waitress just asked if we had any questions. She made some great recommendations. The sushi was a little disappointing, but everything else was fabulous.

Amanda said...

I think my waiter took his training to heart, which was slightly endearing but more tedious than anything else. Glad to hear reports that that's not the mandatory spiel.

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