Restaurants

Fort Worth’s first Zenna knows its Thai and Japanese niche

The Pad Kee Mow with beef at Zenna Thai and Japanese in Fort Worth.
The Pad Kee Mow with beef at Zenna Thai and Japanese in Fort Worth. Special to the Star-Telegram

This is the seventh installment for the owners of Zenna, a Thai and Japanese restaurant that opened April 11 in the West 7th area, and it is their first in Fort Worth. Four Zenna concepts are scattered around Dallas County along with two other restaurants: Zhabuki Asian Shabu in Plano and Z Thai Restaurant in Lewisville.

Zenna takes up the corner spot at Bledsoe and Norwood streets, with some other rowdy newcomers in the same strip. There’s the Jekyll and Hyde of coffee shops, Ampersand (or simply “&”), which converts to an upbeat bar in the evening; the notorious Coyote Ugly Saloon, where dancing on the bar is not only allowed, it’s encouraged; and the soon-to-come OMG Tacos (which will be open until 3 a.m., just like Zenna).

For that reason alone, Zenna with its affordable, small plates menu should be able to pay the rent by feeding the area night crawlers after last call at the local bars. As if that weren’t enough to make this new restaurant a popular draw to the area, they also deliver.

The vibe: The exterior is clad in aluminum and the interior is separated into the bar area on the right and the main dining room on the left with a full sushi bar along the back wall. You’ll find high tops and bar stools in the bar area (which was the preferred seating area on a recent weeknight) and scattered four-tops and booths in the dining area.

The booths were comfy, high-backs in a purple, sparkle vinyl. Pops of purple and rosy pink blend with wooden table-tops and black ladder back chairs. Ample windows allow glimpses to the busy street and bright LED track lighting reflects on glossy concrete flooring. The mounted televisions didn’t distract from dinner.

The food: The menu covers a lot of ground and is filled with photographs so you know what to expect. It reminds me of the photo-filled menus you sometimes find when traveling in places where you don’t speak the language well while pointing and nodding hopefully at your request.

A full-range sushi bar has most nigiri (raw sliced fish atop rice) under $5 for two pieces and most sashimi (raw sliced fish) under $10 for five pieces. Basic to specialty rolls are also very affordable. We sampled the Plano roll ($9.75) with its circular plating arrangement and bright red salty tobiko roe. It was filled with salmon, tuna, avocado and cucumber, topped with spicy tuna and draped in spicy mayonnaise. The fish tasted fresh but the ripe avocado overpowered the fish and the rice was a little on the dry side for my liking.

The yakitori chicken ($4.95) is three standard grilled chicken skewers with a sweet and sticky teriyaki sauce and a fun spice mix for dipping. The garlic crispy pork ribs were a disappointment. Without much meat on the bone, the pile of pork was chewy and dusted with toasted garlic.

One of my dining companions is not very adventurous, and he took the safe bet and went with Thai fried rice with beef ($9.99). It was a safe bet and filling portion, a huge mound of fried rice with plenty of fried egg and beef. The only thing that made it Thai was the addition of chunks of tomato tossed into the wok and its sliced cucumber garnish on the side.

We also tried a Thai noodle dish, the Pad Kee Mow with beef ($10.25). It was a very satisfying version with crunchy bean sprouts mixed in. The flat noodles where not overly saucy but had a wonderful ginger flavor with a few fresh basil leaves tossed throughout the dish giving it a real zing.

For dessert we tried the crispy fried banana ($4.75). It was a bland dish with a thick coating on the deep-fried bananas which were arranged around a scoop of vanilla ice cream. A drizzle of caramel sauce and a few coconut flakes couldn’t make it less meh.

The verdict: The menu has a lot to explore and the prices are right. I will be back to try one of the yummy-looking curry dishes. The soups and many of the entrees look very appealing as well.

When lunch service launches soon, there will be a full range of bento boxes ranging between $6.25 and $10.25. Just another fun way to explore more on the Zenna menu. According to management, the weekend and late-night crowd has already found the restaurant, and at this price-point it is an inviting space to dine or call in for delivery.

Service was good and the staff all collaborated well but since we ordered many small shareables, the dishes piled up unnecessarily. Zenna doesn’t claim to be highbrow or extraordinary Asian cuisine. Instead, they are serving broad range of the greatest hits that Thai and Japanese lovers are craving. Zenna knows its niche and should be a welcome addition to the area.

Zenna

3001 Bledsoe St., 682.250.7230, www.zennarestaurant.com

Hours: 5 p.m.-3 a.m. everyday. (Lunch service will be added soon, hopefully by June from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and a happy hour from 3 p.m.-7 p.m.).

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