Hours: Sun.-Thu. 11 a.m-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers $2.95-5.95; entrees $6.50-9.95
Atmosphere: Industrial Asian
Liquor: Full Bar
Oh, Canada! Even before the latest presidential election, we had a bit of a schoolgirl crush on our great white neighbor to the north. Sure, you can make fun of Canadians' cut-rate currency (a loony? a two-ney?), just-off accent and hockey mania (our condolences), but there's something about that tolerant, cosmopolitan, bilingual land that we find quite alluring. Not to mention that a weekend in Toronto is the most affordable ticket to Asia that we know of. There are those who claim that Toronto's Chinatown is the liveliest, tastiest on the continent, and we just might agree.
So when a Canadian created a pan-Asian noodle house, Zyng, and a pair of Indian entrepreneurs brought it to Pittsburgh's lively, diverse Squirrel Hill, we figured we were in for a treat. Sure, the chain might lack a certain authentic ethnic grittiness, but who wants grit in their nice bowl of soba anyway? Our love of Asian food overcoming our skepticism of chains, we eagerly entered Zyng's brightly painted, bamboo-bedecked space in the new building at Forbes and Murray.
In addition to a small but global selection of appetizers and soups, Zyng's menu includes several classic Asian restaurant dishes (kung pao, teriyaki, pad Thai) as well as meal-sized bowls of noodles in "Asian-flavored" broth. We didn't get to find out what Asia tastes like, though, because we gravitated toward the centerpiece of the Zyng concept, the so-called Asian Market. As explained to us by our "tour guide" (server schooled in the ways of Zyng), this is a build-your-own-bowl experience in which you select your starch -- from a variety of noodles and white or brown rice; then choose a sauce -- such as Chinese black bean, Thai coconut curry or sesame garlic ginger; and a protein -- beef, chicken, shrimp or soy. Then, in an interactive move, you get to carry a small bowl to the "vegetable market" -- actually a glorified salad bar -- and fill it with your own hand-picked selection of stir-fry-friendly veggies. All this is then fried up on a big griddle (Zyng relates it to the teppanyaki grills of Japanese steakhouses, but it may as well be a short-order cook's without the bacon fat) and served up steaming in a bowl.
First, we warmed up our palates with appetizers and soup. Steamed chicken pot-stickers were large half-moon pockets, lightly fried, filled with tender but bland white meat. The dipping sauce, apparently citrus-flavored soy with sesame oil and seeds, had a pleasingly subtle flavor but less appealing viscous texture. We found tom yum soup with shrimp, though described on the menu as "spicy," much milder than most versions of this herbal, brothy Thai favorite. The shrimp were firm and succulent, though, and the freshness of the lime made Angelique think the soup would be refreshing served cold.
Zyng's Magnificent Mu Shu Lettuce Wraps combined an of-the-moment finger-food trend with an ancient Chinese one, presenting mu shu chicken to be wrapped and rolled in lettuce leaves instead of the traditional pancake. Here Zyng succeeded in capturing the classic savory-sweet flavor of mu shu without the attendant grease, and the long julienned strips of daikon radish were a bright touch atop the greens.
At the entree stage of the meal, Jason indulged his taste for Chinese with lo mein noodles, beef and Szechuan sauce, while Angelique tried zoya, a soy-based tofu alternative, over soba (Japanese buckwheat) noodles with spicy Thai sauce. We had feared the results from combining tougher veggies, like bok choy stems, with tender garnishes like scallion and sprouts, but the chef at the grill came through, and each vegetable was lightly cooked to its peak of flavor and texture. Angelique enjoyed her zoya, which was more substantial than tofu and more receptive to the flavor of the sauce, but Jason's beef was tough. Neither spicy Thai nor spicy Szechuan sauces lived up their names, each having more sweet and sour notes than hot ones.
From appetizers to Asian market, Zyng offers fresh, high-quality ingredients combined in competent yet tentative, even ho-hum preparations. Even when we chose our own ingredients, we could not scare up a dish that didn't leave our taste buds -- primed for the vibrant flavors we adore in most Asian cuisines -- begging for more. We wished that this venue offered a little more zing.
Jason: 2 stars
Angelique: 2 stars