Uptown adds new Eastern cuisines

Two new restaurants, Zen Contemporary Asian Cuisine and Moto-I, recently opened in the Lyn-Lake neighborhood. Are they worth their sauce?

Zen Contemporary Asian Cuisine WHERE: 3016 Lyndale Avenue South PRICE: $10 – $20 Recently opened Zen Contemporary Asian Cuisine is so new, it actually still smells a little like paint. Opened about a month ago, the fusion restaurant offers Asian food for every palette, from Vietnamese pho soup to peanut fried pad Thai to traditional grilled Korean ribs. At $10 to $15 a dish, the restaurantâÄôs prices arenâÄôt economical enough for an everyday visit. However, itâÄôs a peaceful departure from pricey upscale restaurants. A&E recommends starting with the heaping Wonton Napoleon appetizer, one of ZenâÄôs specialties. The wanton is a piling of fried wafer pastry sandwiches with cream cheese and avocados and topped with turnings of fresh crab meat, and set next to a whirl of tossed salad greens in savory vinaigrette. Past that, most of the food, though often splayed artfully across the plate, lacks originality that would keep the customers coming back. The Zen Lo Mein features deliciously sautéed carrots and onions with salty marinated chicken, but the noodles needed a savory sauce, so the dry dish as a whole missed its mark. Though the foodâÄôs design is crafty, the buildingâÄôs décor fails to inspire enlightenment implied by the restaurantâÄôs name. While the interiorâÄôs color palette hails deep plum and soporific violet with dainty lavender accents, the cavernous dining area only provides seating around the perimeter. This exposes an enormous stretch of salt and pepper carpet reminiscent of a middle school play area. Luckily, the service at Zen is in a grade all its own. From start to finish, the staff was helpful without hovering and consistently pleasant. Depending on whatâÄôs needed for a personal dining experience, Zen may be a tad disappointing. Hopefully, when it gets acclimated to a client base, the menu will be expanded and the liquor license will be approved. Moto-I WHERE: 2940 Lyndale Ave South PRICE: $5-$15 As the name âÄúMoto,âÄù Japanese for âÄúbeginning,âÄù implies, Lyn-LakeâÄôs new Japanese-fusion restaurant may be the start of an unprecedented cult following. The new restaurant is the first sake brewery outside of Japan. This is reflected in the menu, which mostly features everything from cabernet sauvignon to light, sweet junmai nama sake , and only a tiny array of delicious food. Each shot of the seven kinds of sake runs about seven bucks, and pairs excellently with the menuâÄôs spicy dishes. The menu features delicious, tiny appetizers for $3 to $7 each. The first sub-group is labeled âÄúSnacks that go with alcohol,âÄù so nothing is left to the imagination. It ranges from dried squid sautéed in wasabi mayo and Thai beef jerky in chili-onion sriracha sauce to fried shishito peppers smothered in kosher salt and a light oil. The restaurantâÄôs interior is clean, with a drop-down glass ceiling and dark-lined booths. The restaurantâÄôs simple lines are pleasing to the eye and provide a minimalistic but elegant atmosphere for a simple dinner date or a precursor to a night on the town.