IT'S LATIN! IT'S ASIAN! IT'S ZENGO!: If all goes according to plan, Zengo (781 Seventh St. NW; 202-393-2929) will open its doors today and diners will have another place to explore fusion cooking in the District.
The latest culinary addition to Penn Quarter features a celebrity partner -- Placido Domingo, general director of the Washington National Opera -- and a veteran New York chef -- Richard Sandoval, a native of Mexico who now counts seven restaurants around the country in his domain.
Zengo also marks the return of chef de cuisine Alan Yu, who was born in Shanghai and grew up in the Washington area (his parents owned the late Mr. Yung's in Chinatown) and comes to the project from the much-hyped 66 in Manhattan.
The name explains the concept. Zengo means "give and take" in Japanese, and the menu is an attempt to bridge the backgrounds of executive chef Sandoval and Yu. Among the dishes Sandoval lists as his early favorites are won ton tacos using yellowfin tuna and sushi rice, braised veal cheeks lapped with an achiote truffle sauce and "Bangkok" seviche splashed with coconut milk.
"There's a lot of give-and-take between Alan and me," says Sandoval, playing up Zengo's theme and eager to make clear that fusion doesn't have to translate into confusion on the plate. "We put a lot of thought into this. It's not just making a dish with soy sauce and achiote." A veteran of Michel Richard Citronelle in Georgetown, Yu met Sandoval in New York, where the restaurateur runs Pampano, a Mexican seafood restaurant co-owned with Domingo.
Designed by Adamstein & Demetriou, the 195-seat Zengo spreads across two floors and includes a seviche bar and lounge. The warm palette evokes fruit and wood colors; outsize windows frame the street action.
Sandoval, who plans to check in on his new project every other week, says he has become a fan of Washington. "It has a big-city feel, like New York, but it's more peaceful." Local transportation officials might want to tap the idealistic chef for any future promotion. "I love the subway," he claims. Give him a few more visits.
Appetizers $8-$13, entrees $14-$27.