According to Zindas website, the restaurants name is Hindi for alive. In a number of ways, its an apt name for the newest member of the Eschelon Hospitality group of restaurants.
Its certainly a suitable description of the decor, which more than lives up to the reputation for visual drama that has become an Eschelon trademark in restaurants such as Mura, Sono and The Oxford.
Zindas two-level dining room fairly throbs with the tension between earthy and organic elements (stone walls, contorted root balls suspended from a high ceiling, two nine-foot communal tables fashioned from a single tree trunk) and the yards of purple neon that frame a sleek bar and keyhole-shaped doorways. A recurring Asian motif -- bamboo canes, Buddha sculptures and prints, exotic wood chopsticks on the tables -- is woven throughout, unifying the disparate elements.
And setting the stage for a menu that takes you on a freewheeling tour of pan-Asian fare from Indian chana masala to Chinese duck chow fun to Filipino pork adobo. Descriptions helpfully include the country of origin for each dish, most of which favor contemporary interpretation over strict authenticity. Occasionally, the menu ventures into fusion territory, labeled as New Asian: crispy channa with beets, grilled beef lollipops on sugar cane sticks, and the like.
Five-spice fried calamari, tossed with garlic and Thai chiles, are a fine way to wake up your taste buds. So is som tam salad, a refreshing contemporary riff thats lighter than the original while remaining true in spirit.
Shaking beef lettuce cups, so named for the way the nuggets of tender New York strip steak hop about in the wok as theyre being cooked, is another winning starter. So are steamed buns, with one caveat: Id pass on the surprisingly bland pork belly version, and opt instead for chicken katsu, mushroom, or duck confit.
The entree selection is similarly diverse, traipsing all over the continent from masala-spiced lamb to nasi goreng to miso-glazed scallops to vegetarian lo mein.
A deconstructed mahi vindaloo serves up a moist piece of fish, subtly spiced and expertly seared, alongside a mound of rice and a ladleful of potatoes in a vinegar-tinged vindaloo sauce thats toned down from the traditional version but nonetheless tasty.
The coconut-based Macau yellow curry is even milder, in this case authentically so. As long as youre not expecting the punch of an Indian or Thai curry, youll be charmed by the delicate flavor. Like me, though, you may find yourself wishing the kitchen would be more generous with the mushrooms, tofu, zucchini, red bell peppers, carrots and onions promised by the menu in this vegetarian dish.
Szechwan bison flank steak, on the other hand, was firing on all cylinders when I ordered it: lean, tender petals of dry-fried meat, lightly glazed in a brown sauce punctuated with green onions, chiles and just a suggestion of Szechwan peppercorn.
The bison has since been replaced by flank steak, the result of a recent tweaking of the menu. I cant vouch for the new version, though the description otherwise remains unchanged.
I can, however, tell you that at least one of the new items -- a Malaysian salad featuring bamboo-skewered grilled shrimp on a bed of mixed greens, topped with a vibrant mango salsa -- is a keeper. And, as far as I can tell, Filipino cigars are the same toothsome pork-and-carrot-filled spring rolls I enjoyed when they were formerly listed under their authentic name of lumpia.
Zindas dessert offering is brief but varied, with options including flan, molten lava cake and the Indian-spiced smore that tantalized but wasnt available the night I wanted it. Judging by the merely passable mango mousse I got instead, Im inclined to recommend spending the calories on side dishes with your entrees. Greens braised with hoisin and bacon, say, and exceptionally fluffy naan with mint and tamarind chutneys.
Depending on the luck of the draw, service can be very good. Or you can get the short straw in the form of a server who exhibits all the liveliness and charm of a zombie. As our party waited, and waited, and waited for her to make a rare appearance one Saturday night, we joked that maybe she only came to life after 10 p.m. Thats when Zinda morphs from restaurant into trendy bar on weekends, living up to its name in a different way.
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