Table Notes: "Zen", a school of Buddhism, comes to us from Asia and so is the food you'll find at the Zen Grill. Just about all the Asian bases are covered here with dishes from Japan, China, Vietnam, Korea, Thailand, India and Singapore. And, they manage to do it with fresh ingredients at prices that remain a great deal more controlled in these economic times than in many other restaurants. Maybe it's that Zen discipline.
I dare say, one of their "Zen-Sum" (appetizer) dishes may be the best deal in town. It's called, on the menu, Minced Chicken & Lettuce Cup Wraps with hoisin sauce, $3.95. What the menu doesn't tell you is that it's two lettuce cups filled with subtly spiced chicken mixed with water chestnut squares, noodles, and parsley, and that it has enough flavor even without the sauce. There's enough here for a nice lunch or a light dinner for the dieter.
The list of appetizers includes vegetarian moo-shu pancake wraps, tuna rice tower, chicken satay, and spicy grilled chicken salad. They warrant the "grill" in the name with several grilled dishes like seven spiced salmon, ahi tuna steak, double breast chicken (Thai style), and grilled Asian BBQ chicken.
The variegated styles include dishes off the main entree part of the menu that arrive as soups. The Thai green curry chicken comes that way without warning, a creative alternative to the spicier coconut based Tom Yum Koong (aka, Tom Ka Gai: shrimp and mushrooms) from the Thai bag of treats. This curry dish comes with the lively mix of Japanese eggplant, broccoli, tomato and a side of jasmine rice. All for $7.95 and it can be ordered with Tofu instead of chicken.
Other soup dishes include Tokyo Ramen, Saigon Noodle and Malaysian Laksa, a particular favorite. The highest priced delights are really worth trying, namely, Zen Sum sushi at $15.95 and the Mongolian lamb at $14.50.
The word "Zen" implies quiet and meditation. The object is enlightenment. This may be the inspirational background for the chef who created the dishes you'll find here, but it's not the effect you'll experience when you eat them. This is food that inspires conversation, so forget contemplation and quiet.
Delivery: $12.00 minimum order, within the local area.
Location: Strategic to the La Cienega corridor, within walking distance of the Beverly Connection and Borders Bookstore.
Other locations: 14543 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks (818) 461-8444
Total experience: Between the prices and the great multi-cultural menu choices, there's an inducement to make Zen Grill a regular part of my diet.
Jules Brenner has published a cross-indexed guide to dining in Los Angeles County and posts a "Restaurant of the Month" on his website. Check out the current one at http://variagate.com/restbook.htm
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