“Zest!” is one of those trendy midtown restaurants that had been on my radar for a while, mainly because I’d had a chance to study the menu online and everything sounded so intriguing. Last Friday, I, along with my faithful dinner companion Carla, finally had a chance to try it. While I would characterize my experience as good, I do think Zest is somewhat over-hyped.
From all outward appearances it’s unassuming and not particularly striking, other than the nice colorful sign. A small eating area overlooks 54nd street.
But step inside and the place comes alive with color, from the brightly colored walls to the numerous pieces of art that adorn them.
A long hallway filled with art leads to a restroom which, believe it or not, is also is filled with art. In fact, this emphasis on art and creation may be the most defining quality of this Zest. It shines through in so many ways, not the least of which is the food.
What could have been your typical complimentary bread was instead an artfully prepared bouquet of bread and popcorn, served with seasoned olive oil and two different types of spread. The popcorn, which had a hint of spice, had a real gourmet taste. The breads tasted freshly baked and moist, and went well with the spreads.
We ordered what we thought would be three small appetizers. The portion sizes turned out to be much larger than expected, and in hindsight, we would have been better off going with a salad, or just a single appetizer.
We shared an order of “Tomato Bon Bons,” which are made with baby tomatoes, local asiago, sausage, cornmeal crust and tomato tzatziki. I was not especially taken away by these, but I should qualify my remarks by saying that I have never been a big “bon bon guy,” so I am probably not the best judge of what constitutes a good bob bon. My dinner companion was more impressed.
For my own appetizer I chose the vegetarian “Wild Mushroom Tacos,” which are made with roasted wild mushrooms, white cheddar, chipotle slaw, house-made refried black beans and an avocado salad. The flavors worked really well together, and I loved the lime.
My dinner companion, Carla, went with the “World-Famous Mac & Cheese,” which is topped with home-made potato chip crumbles. There was a certain smokiness that I really liked, but it was the crumbles really made the dish. This is not the best mac and cheese I’ve ever had, even though it was very good.
For the main course I chose the “5-Hour Braised Short Rib,” which comes with a tasty rosemary-gorgonzola polenta and sautéed organic young kale. When they say “5-Hour” I believe them. The meat fell right off the bone. Come to think of it, I’m not sure it was even attached to the bone by the time it made its way to my table. But it sure made for a nice presentation. It was about as tender and juicy as it gets, and I would definitely order this dish again. The polenta was a nice alternative to mashed potatoes, and provided a nice complement to the perfectly sautéed organic young kale.
My dinner companion went with the Asiago ‘Fried’ Chicken, which was a tender chicken breast covered in wild mushroom ragout. This dish, too, came with rosemary-gorgonzola polenta and green beans instead of kale.
For desert, we shared the Cherry Pie topped with golden crispy puff pastry and their house-made honey-vanilla bean ice cream. The cherry pie itself might have been a tad soupy for my taste, even though the cherries themselves were baked just right and went well with the ice cream.
What I like most about Zest
Quite simply, the menu. I get so tired of the same old stuff that it’s refreshing when a restaurant dares to be creative and actually pulls it off. Another positive was the service. The entire staff was friendly and attentive. In particular, our waiter, Michael, was very courteous and knowledgeable. It was obvious he knew the menu very well, as evidenced by the fact that he was able to offer insights that went beyond what was merely printed on the menu.
I didn’t find the seating particularly comfortable. The tables, while artful, offer very little leg room. I found myself continually bumping my knees and shins.
Other Zest! Photos
A Second Dining Room
A 3rd Dining Room
Even the Restroom is Filled with Art
Another Shot of the Main Dining Area
A Painting Hangs on the Wall in the Hallway
A Collection of Crayon Art Drawn by Zest Customers
Brownies and Treats
A Pass-Through to the Kitchen
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