ZenChi Cafe
11334 Moorpark
Studio City, CA 91604
818 760 3890
Hours: Tues.-Sun. for dinner, Tues.-Fri. for lunch
Stay tuned for Sunday brunch (we loved their Easter brunch menu)

Cuisine: California-Asian
Must Try: Chilean Sea Bass
Star Rating: 2.25
Average Cost: Entrees $12 to $28 (dinner)

“The balance is Zen, while the energy is chi,” says Nick Cavanaugh, the hunky proprietor of the new little gem just off the corner of Tujunga and Moorpark in Studio City.

Drawing from the Cirque de Soleil style environment of the floating gardens outside of Bangkok, Nick has indeed brought a feeling of both chi and Zen to his new pan-Asian restaurant. The outside of the restaurant is as appealing as the inside, and when greeted by gentle signs stating “No Cell Phones, Or Cigarettes”, you know you have a few hours’ respite from the crazy world just outside the doors.

Formerly the Studio City Grill, the owner personally removed eleven tons of debris and replaced the new open and tranquil space with dark green slate walls, troweled and acid-washed concrete floors. He graced his space with African wood mahogany tables (that he had made himself) and the rushing sounds of water that swirls around a giant 100+ year-old wooden Buddha. This man of many talents designed the entire restaurant, built most of it by hand, and created the menu to go with it as well.

Nick Cavanaugh is as much a presence and part of the restaurant as the d├ęcor and menu. A celebrity fitness trainer (and did we say big hunk?) who has worked in Los Angeles for almost twenty years from his private studio in Toluca Lake, he has had his own column in Shape Magazine International, where the Cavanaugh Nutritional Lifestyle was first published. He has traveled with celebrities throughout Europe, Asia, South America, and the USA as their fitness trainer, nutritionist, and cook, all of which he draws from as he now creates his first restaurant owned and operated by him (formerly, he managed a myriad of restaurants, including the famous Scandia on Sunset Boulevard).

The menu is eclectic and diverse, and is more appropriately described as “California-Asian bistro.” With East meeting West, there are taste treats that range from Thai pork spareribs to Angus beef burgers. Although the service was slightly off with our entrees coming about five minutes apart from each other, it was more than made up for with the friendly service of Dawn, our gorgeous waitress from Ohio (and of course, an actress).

The starters were intriguing, and we particularly liked the Thai pork spareribs, which came in a very tasty and lively barbecue sauce, and consisted of three pieces ($8). The Indonesian crab cakes were also interesting and were served in a creamy ginger sauce, which also substituted as a fabulous dressing for the ample salad served with it ($9). The Dining Duo also enjoyed the black tiger shrimp satays, which were smothered in a mango-peanut sauce and delivered up a Southeast Asian flair ($10).

Of course, Michael is crazy about burgers and couldn’t resist the Zen Chi Angus beef burger, which consisted of one-half pound of seasoned ground Angus, served with lettuce, avocado, caramelized onions, tomato, and crowned with bleu cheese, and all for $16. Nick will be the first to tell you that the burger is accompanied by a slice of bread rather than a bun in order to create the right proportions of bread and burger and not outweigh the meat itself. Michael felt that it was perfectly prepared and delivered, and enjoyed eating the burger. Scott selected the ZenChi Chilean sea bass, which of course in today’s renewed sea bass market is authentic Chilean sea bass, seared and set atop sushi rice, a mandarin glaze, and crowned with a mango chutney. The mango chutney was a marvelous combination of flavors that added not only to the fish, but also made the accompanying sticky rice and vegetable garnish that much tastier ($27). It was also served in an aesthetically pleasing round dish, and stacked in a beautiful presentation, laced with a few wisps of lemongrass.

There are a variety of sides, but we particularly suggest the ZenChi curry sweet potato fries, which were delicious, fattening, and an excellent example of how Nick has again mixed both East and West with great success ($6). The dessert selection varies on each day, but with a selection of mango mousse, chocolate raspberry roll, and guava custard, there is something to please everyone. We particularly liked the mango mousse that was garnished with strawberries and blueberries, and a smearing of chocolate on the plate as it stayed within the California-Asian palate of flavors offered by this sweet new restaurant.

The drink and wine list is ample, and we found the prices reasonable, with the range of white wines by the glass from $7-$10, and reds by the glass from $7-$12.

If you’re in the mood for something new and different, and want some nice neighborhood hospitality, ZenChi offers a peaceful getaway far from the madding crowds.

Posted by The Dining Duo | 7:30 PM | , , , | 0 comments »

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