Zentan, Donavan House Hotel, Logan Circle

Every time an absentee celebrity chef associates his or her name with a restaurant, the internet gets all a-twitter. Zentan, which touts itself as being linked to the non-existent Susur Lee from Toronto, is no exception.

I wanted to unwind with some sake, and ordered a bottle of Bamboo Princess Junmai ($27 for 300 ml) which, after about five minutes, I was told they were out of. Instead, I got a carafe of Snow Maiden Junmai Nigori ($15) and wish I hadn’t: it was poured from an already-open bottle into my carafe, and my first glass of it was nothing but froth, with the consistency of what you’d get at the very bottom of a root beer float – it was disgusting. (Nigori is unfiltered sake, and I suspect this contributed to that.) Subsequent glasses became progressively more liquid, but this sake was just gross, and I should have sent it back, but the bar was slammed (read on).

The sushi here has gotten good press, particularly from Washingtonian magazine, so I went ahead and ordered a Sushi and Sashimi Platter ($31) which contained 9 pieces of sashimi, 6 pieces of sushi, and 1 roll – I wanted to see how all three fared here. Five out of the nine pieces of sashimi were (really, really bad) tuna, which was segmented and almost foldable, and salmon; the other four were whitefish that were fairly dry, but not unpleasant. A piece of scallop nigiri was just awful, but the sushi far outperformed the sashimi in this dish – the combinations were interesting (not unlike what you might find at Kaz), and the sushi rice itself was the star of the platter. Not surprisingly, the spicy tuna roll which came on the plate was also very good, the tuna having a pureed texture.

I was still somewhat hungry, so I ordered a Spicy Jumbo Lump Crab Roll ($7) which, I hate to say it, wasn’t all jumbo lump – there was plenty of fibrous filler in this roll, which had a lot in common with the spicy tuna. It was accompanied by a somewhat-uncommon draft of Sapporo ($7).

I had a Bloomspot coupon that I used for this meal which was supposed to be for $40 worth of food and drink – or so I thought. When I asked for the check, I was told that drinks didn’t count towards the total, and my food tab was only at $38, sigh. So I ordered a scoop of Wildflower Honey Sorbet ($3), and wow, I’m glad I did because it was pretty much a full bowl of it, and it was absolutely wonderful – the best $3 I’ve spent in a long time. The Bloomspot incident was forgiven … but …

The next week I went back on a Wednesday night using a Capitol Deal coupon which was for $40, but on Monday through Wednesday you get $50.

Having learned my lesson from the Nigori sake, I stuck with the safer bet of a carafe of Hakushika ($8). I wasn’t impressed enough with the raw fish to order it twice in a row (although my neighbor’s sushi platter looked tempting), so I went with some appetizers.

Szechwan Hot & Sour Soup ($7) with chicken and shredded vegetables took awhile to arrive (the restaurant was absolutely slammed), but boy was it worth the wait. This was by far the highlight of the meal, and was one of the best bowls of hot and sour soup I’ve ever eaten – that said, it was somewhat oily, so if you find that aspect undesirable, you might want to bypass this. Still, I recommend it.

I suppose it’s a rite of passage here to order the Singapore Slaw ($16) with its 19 ingredients, and I did. I went into this with no preconceived notions, but figured there might be some small, dried shrimp in the mix; not so – it’s an entirely vegan dish, and worth getting if you’re going to split it. For one person, it becomes very ponderous as it’s a fairly large salad (I guess you can call it a salad). Not bad, but I wouldn’t get it again unless I was with someone who was curious about it.

A bottle of Echigo Stout ($9) was too deep for this high-toned dish, but the reason I ordered it was for the Korean Beef Tartare ($11) with quail egg and wonton crisps. The quail egg was nice and runny, but the tartare was a pretty small portion, and remarkably, was a lot like the spicy tuna inside the spicy tuna roll. Despite the fact that one is tuna and the other is beef, they are very similar, one to the other. This beef was also seemingly pureed instead of chopped. This dish was definitely not a repeat for me.

Zentan has been using a myriad of discount coupons. On my first visit, I called before I went and told them about the Bloomspot coupon, only to be asked if I was sure it hadn’t expired (some of them apparently have). Perhaps as a result of all these discounts, the restaurant, particularly the bar area, is a mob scene, and on this evening it was terribly understaffed and the service was just awful. Bartenders were rushing by deliberately not looking at customers who were trying to get their attention (including me), and the only way to get the check was to sort of lean forward and wave – this, after about ten minutes of trying to simply make eye contact. When the check arrived, it had two draft beers on it that I didn’t order, but didn’t have my Echigo Stout, sigh. So I flagged the bartender again, told him about the mistake, and gave him my Capitol Deal coupon at the same time, crossing my fingers that he’d get it right.

He didn’t. The two beers were removed, the Echigo wasn’t added, and the discount was only $40 instead of the $50 which it’s supposed to be Monday through Wednesday. The net result was that my check was about $5 higher than it should have been. What did I do at that point? I signed the check and hauled ass, figuring it wasn’t worth the $5 having to suffer through another five minutes here. The food was okay, but I was very happy to be out that door. Coupon users, beware.

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