Richard Sandoval has built an empire of more than 30 Latin-themed restaurants all over the globe. Zengo, the Latin-Asian fusion restaurant in Riverfront Park neighborhood, is celebrating its tenth year in business. Recently, Sandoval opened La Biblioteca, a tequila-centric lounge adjacent to Zengo.
Zengo’s Chef de Cuisine Clint Wangsnes says, “La Biblioteca is a full-on tequila lounge in an approachable atmosphere. We want the young professionals in the neighborhood to come in and enjoy the tequila and food in this comfy atmosphere.” The lounge seats 72 in comfortable, inviting booths with white marble-topped tables, and offers guests a menu of appetizers, sushi, small plates, sliders and burgers. Wangsnes says, “We’re also going to have more than 200 types of tequila and a tequila locker so repeat customers can buy a bottle of tequila and keep it locked up in the bar.”
Zengo is featuring a new Test Kitchen (TK) concept, which is the union of Latin and Asian regional foods. Wangsnes says the concept, a fusion of Japan and Mexico, is planned for the first quarter in 2014. One of the dishes to be unveiled on that menu is a kabayaki (sweet soy sauce) glazed Colorado lamb shank, accompanied by creamy sushi rice salad and cilantro chutney. Wangsnes meets with three other Zengo chefs from New York, Washington D.C. and Santa Monica to develop TK fusion menu ideas. “We actually set up quarterly chef conferences and brainstorm about food pairings. Then we go get the ingredients and cook up the recipes.” Of a previous fusion of Peruvian and Malaysian menu items he describes, “I contributed a fair share to that menu.”
The TK concept materialized about three years ago. Wangsnes states, “We wanted to rethink our brand and keep the menu exciting, so we [the four chefs] decided to work together and actually tried to keep regions together to study them and come up with creative menu selections. Richard is a great employer because he gives us creative freedom once he trusts your palate.”
Wangsnes, who has been with Zengo nearly eight years, has a culinary history that spans the nation with stints in Miami, Oahu and a few restaurants in Denver. He cites Sean Brasel as one of his top mentors. “I moved to South Beach to work with Sean, who had dabbled a lot with Southwestern foods and spices, but being in Miami and having exposure to all kinds of Latin foods and restaurants gave me a great understanding of Latin ingredients and traditional dishes before I signed on with Zengo.”
Zengo has arguably one of the best happy hours in the city. “From 5 to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday we serve $5 Latin Asian cocktails like Mojitos, and affordable bar snacks that are sizeable portions,” shares Wangsnes.
“Another big thing we’re doing at Zengo is our Bottomless Brunch with all you can eat food and drink for $35, and these foods are cooked to order—not a buffet,” he says. The menu features unlimited small plates and free-flowing cocktails and coffee. Popular menu items include salmon Benedict, with furikake-dusted salmon on ciabatta bread topped with chipotle hollandaise, and chicken chilaquiles with roasted chicken, guajillo salsa and cotija cheese. For the past decade, guests have insisted on keeping the Thai chicken empanada on the menu. “We haven’t changed the recipe at all. There were a few times we tried to change the dough but the customers like the original so that is going to stay on the menu,” Wangsnes states. Another favorite menu item is the chipotle miso-glazed black cod that is accompanied by lemon togarashi (Japanese chile) aioli.
With Sandoval moving his corporate headquarters and central operations to 34th and Blake streets, customers may see him in Zengo or La Biblioteca more often. Of Zengo, Wangsnes summarizes, “We are blessed to have been consistently busy and I think that says a lot about the menu and the consistency of the food.”
When You Go
1610 Little Raven St., Denver
1610 Little Raven St., #200, Denver
Toasted Coconut Profiteroles
Corporate Pastry Chef Jose Luis Flores
32 ounces water
14 ounces butter
2 ounces sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
21 ounces all-purpose flour
14 whole eggs
Preheat oven to 425°. Boil water, butter, sugar and salt. Add vanilla and flour and remove from heat. Work mixture together and return to medium heat. Continue working the mixture until all flour is incorporated and dough forms a ball, about 6 minutes. Transfer mixture into bowl of a standing mixer and let cool for 3-4 minutes. With mixer on stir or lowest speed add eggs, one at a time, making sure the first egg is completely incorporated before continuing. Once all eggs have been added and the mixture is smooth, spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a large plain round tip. Pipe in mounds 1 1/2 inches wide and 1 inch high onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You should have about 18 puffs. With a wet finger, lightly press down the swirl at the top of each puff. (You can also use two spoons to scoop out the mixture and shape the puffs with damp fingers.) Bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned, then turn off the oven and allow them to sit for another 10 minutes, until they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Make a small slit in the side of each puff to allow the steam to escape. Set aside to cool.
To serve: Pour 1 full tablespoon of manjar blanco (dulce de leche) in the center of dessert plate, cut each profiterole in half crosswise, fill with a small scoop of ice cream, replace the top, place on top of manjar blanco and drizzle with slightly warm chocolate sauce. Garnish with fresh berries. Serve three profiteroles per plate.
Toasted Coconut Ice Cream
3 cups shredded coconut
4 cups heavy cream
3 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
2-8.5 ounce cans Coco Lopez cream of coconut
15 egg yolks
Preheat oven to 250°. To toast the coconut, spread it out in a single layer on a nonstick baking sheet or one lined with parchment paper. Bake until the coconut is golden and crunchy about 45 minutes to one hour.
To make the custard, in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the cream, milk, sugar, cream of coconut and shredded coconut to a boil. Reduce heat and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and let rest for 15 minutes and up to overnight to allow the coconut flavor to saturate the mixture. Strain through a fine sieve to remove shredded coconut. Don’t toss the shredded coconut—you can dry it and use it to sprinkle over the ice cream. Place the drained, shredded coconut on a parchment lined sheet pan. Place in the oven at 300° for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Chill the custard in the refrigerator until very cold, about three hours, or use an ice bath. Pour into an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Serve sprinkled with toasted coconut.
Dulce De Leche
For dulce de leche we usually buy small cans or large cans of condensed milk, we throw the whole can into a large pot, covering with water and boil it for four hours, making sure there is always water covering the can for an even cooking.
Shiny Chocolate Sauce
1 pound bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2/3 cup light Karo syrup
2/3 cup hot water
Melt chocolate over a double boiler. Remove from heat and whisk in Karo syrup—this will make the chocolate very thick. Thin the chocolate to consistency with very hot water.
It is very important to not add the water first. This will make the chocolate seize and ruin the sauce. Always add Karo syrup first.
Beverage Director Rob Day
Yields 1 cocktail
1½ ounces aged Peruvian rum (recommended: Cartavio - 5 years)
1 ounce house made sour
1 ounce simple syrup
2 Shiso leaves (from Asian market)
2 Fuji apple wedges
2 fresh lime wedges
Build in shaker—muddle lime wedges, simple syrup, Fuji apple wedges, Shiso leaves and rum. Shake the mixture, pour it into a highball glass and garnish it with lime wedges. Add club soda to taste.
BIO Kathy Smith is a freelance writer, chef, athlete and mother of four, who contributes to many local magazines. She loves to cook and eat, train, compete and read. While she loves to cook and entertain, she plans to eat and drink with family and friends at Zengo and La Biblioteca.