It helps when the help helps. My second trip to Zing, I chose to dine at the mirrored bar on the new restaurant’s second floor. I had the almost exclusive attention of a bright blue-eyed bartender who shook his silver martini shaker over his left shoulder with such furious flourish, I thought he might moonlight in a Caribbean band. So I took him at his word when he suggested the island-inspired pineapple tamale with sautéed shrimp ($8). The dish certainly wouldn’t have been my first choice — too sweet, too much going on, from the menu description.
But ol’ blue eyes knew what he was talking about. The succulent, moist tamal (the proper, singular form of the Spanish-named food) struck a sweetly mellow chord around which all the other flavors danced. Tell you the truth, I barely remember the spicy spinach Alfredo co-billed on the dish’s description — maybe it provided a flavor counterpoint that cloaked the tasty shrimp. For these flavors are carefully engineered and artfully executed, down to the square plates and see-through sliced cheeses.
The small plates concept is exactly as it sounds: Petite portions are meant to be shared by a table’s worth of guests, so everyone gets a few bites of everything. I wouldn’t exactly call it a new dining trend: Madam Speaker Pelosi’s chain of American-Italian restaurants, Piatti, popularized it years ago in America. And, of course, many European Mediterranean cultures eat this way often. But it may well be new to our corner of the world — and with American preparations.
Small plates are served at dinnertime in the venue’s vibrant two floors. In fact, you’d barely know that since the early 1900s the historic building at 543 Indiana Ave. has housed everything from a barber shop to a grocery store. Now the inside takes on a bright yellow hue that invokes the saffron of Spanish tapas. Diners on the second floor’s side room eat under hanging lights with blue, orange and red-tiled covers. From the bar in the main second-story area, they look like colorful hoop skirts of papier mâché.
Zing’s English chef favors seafood dishes. My last Sunday visit was brightened by a soup of the day called “Fisherman’s Brew” ($8). It was an almost-bisque of tangy tomato and cream filled with scallops and shrimp. A dollop of bright green pesto softened the broth, conjuring the cream and tomato’s sweetness. Celery and other root veggies gave texture. A small, square bowl held just enough of the stuff.
Most dishes are similar, self-contained masterpieces. But sometimes they’re just a bit off pitch. That’s how I’d classify the jerk chicken with cassoulet bean mix and fried plantains ($8). The chicken was a little tough, its sauce a little too sweet. The whole thing came off more like the syrupy, salty mix of pork and beans. The plantains were a bit chalky, too.
But the place gets the majority of things just right. There are plenty of lust-worthy favorites here, including Medjool dates stuffed with sausage and wrapped with fatty bacon ($9) that melt into a sinful mélange on the tongue.
Zing, however, does not ignore any crowd with its cosmopolitan countenance. Price points are not outrageous. Lunch, which consists of soups, salads and sandwiches, can be had for about $7-$9. And drink specials flow during the week. Wednesdays tout half-off an extensive list of signature martinis, which include one made with a strawberry vodka that is infused in-house.
Sundays find decently mixed Bloody Marys ($3) on the downstairs dry erase board of specials. For some, this is a necessary and welcome tonic. A bartender (not ol’ blue eyes) tried to make conversation with one early Sunday drinker who was there by his lonesome, save for a tall Bloody Mary with an equally long, quartered pickle.
Drinker raised an eyebrow and executed a slow, suspicious nod.
Perhaps he should have ripened alone on the wraparound balcony. The space may begin to wane in popularity as autumn’s chill sets in. Too bad. I will dream of enjoying pure flavors like Asian-inspired mahi mahi “tacos” alongside a decent view of downtown.
543 Indiana Ave.
Open daily at 11 a.m.
Food: Four and a half stars
Atmosphere: Four and a half stars
Service: Four and a half stars
Recommended Dish: Mild mahi served on a curved tempura shell filled with the fish and garlicky cilantro pesto