Unfortunately, Zen Zero is owned by the same group that poorly manages Genovese (and La Parilla), a very sad excuse for an Italian restaurant a couple blocks down the street on Massachusetts. I hesitate to spend our money at Zen Zero only because of the unpleasant experiences we have had at Genovese, but there are not many options when it comes to decent, reasonably priced restaurants in Lawrence, so we bit my tongues and returned after a long layoff.
Zen Zero’s decor is modern, yet cozy with hints of Asian influence in select pieces of art on the walls, warm Earth-tone colors and an open kitchen emitting exotic sounds, smells, and flames as chefs prepare meals in view of customers. As you can see from the photo below, the lighting is much brighter than I remember, ruining the ambience we used to enjoy beside hurting my light sensitive eyes.
Our server arrived with a customary basket of Asian rice chips, light and crunchy, which are tasty but an accompanying sauce to dip in would have been nice, but seemed as though she did not seem overly eager to be there or serve us.
Sunday night used to be Zen Zero night in our house where draught beer is on special for $3.00 a (American) pint. They do not have a huge selection of drafts, a pale ale, a wheat, and a seasonal (e.g. Oktoberfest, Irish Red). I ordered the Irish Red (normally $4.50), two total over the entire meal. My wife had water.
The Fried Pork Momos (now $4.99) come with four dumplings and two sauces, a mildly spicy red tomato chutney and an almost white sauce that reminded me of very well-blended hummus. The Fried Chicken Spring Rolls (now $4.29) come with a sweet and spicy sauce infused with chili peppers. They were savory and crunchy, containing ground, seasoned chicken and, beside the small portion, they were also good. But having lived in McLeod Ganj, India for two months last year, a Tibetan colony and home of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, I ate Tibetan food three times a day, every day. An order of momos there consists of eight, double the number at Zen Zero, they are much better, and only cost $2.50, one-quarter the price at Zen Zero.
|Meeting with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama – McLeod Ganj, India (December 8, 2014)
My wife ordered a vegetarian dish, Phad Phak Ruam Mitr ($7.99), a mixed vegetable stir-fry with broccoli, onions, garlic, carrots, bell peppers, snow peas, Napa cabbage, scallions, baby corn and tofu and served with Jasmine rice. It was light and not too spicy for an Italian not used to eating hot and spicy foods (penne arrabiata is as hot as it gets in Italian cuisine). The vegetables were fresh and crisp, and the sauce light yet complex enough to satiate the palate, but it left a strange aftertaste unlike when she has had it in the past. She could barely eat it and the server did not bother asking how our meal was or if there was a problem with the dish, bringing a to-go container and making us box it up ourselves.
I love curry and Zen Zero’s Massaman curry (now $8.29, $10.28 with beef), a coconut curry from Southern Thailand with potatoes peanuts (no pork option), was as good a I remember. Having ordered my curry with the customary beef (an extra $2.99), the curry was rich and well seasoned. A thick red curry, Massaman comes with tofu or meat (other than pork – $1.99 to $3.99 extra charge for meat or seafood) with potatoes and peanuts in a huge bowl served with Jasmine rice. Not overly abundant in the beef department, I was not too disappointed because the thick curry sauce was nearly as good as the best I have ever eaten (the best was a similar curry at a small Vietnamese restaurant in Palos Verdes, California back in the late 1970s).
Our appetizers took quite a while to arrive and our entrees took even longer. I watched my wife’s Phad Phak Ruam Mitr sit on the counter for at least ten minutes until my curry was finally ready, all the while our server was too busy talking on her cell phone to bring us our food and we had to wait even longer after my curry was finally ready.
When we had finished, I gave our server a coupon we had received (2nd dinner half-off with purchase of an entree and two drinks), she told me she did not think we could use it. I asked, “Why?”, and she told me “You have to order two drinks to get the deal”. To which I replied, “We did, I had two beers” (and a couple appetizers to boot) to which she responded, “I’ll have to check with my manager to see if it’s OK”. Really? I should not have been surprised because Zen Zero is owned by the same group that owns Genovese where we had a similar incident a while back (they also refused to honor a coupon). I find myself wondering why the owners bother printing coupons if they are just going to have their servers hassle customers who try to use them.
Zen Zero had become a staple in our house and we may likely be returning in the future even though they have raised their prices rather significantly in the past year and the service was not nearly as good as it used to be. Good restaurants are not abundant in Lawrence, particularly downtown, but Zen Zero is a welcome option, albeit a bit pricier than in the past.
I gave Zen Zero 9 Bombs Out Of 10 in a past review, but with deductions for their price increases, the delays in receiving our appetizers and entrees, the weird aftertaste in the Phad Phak Ruam Mitr, and being hassled by the server for using a coupon …
CombatCritic Now Gives Zen Zero 6 Bombs Out Of 10 … Bombs Are Good!
Title: Lawrence, Kansas: Price Increases And Poor Service (Literally) Left A Bad Taste In Our Mouths
Key Words: travel, value, product, restaurant, menu review, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zomato, zen zero, zen, zero, Lawrence, Kansas, Massachusetts, Thai, Nepalese, Japanese, 66044, CombatCritic, TravelValue
Translation for Civilians: G2G = “Good To Go”