Located in the heart of downtown New Haven, Zinc is a modern American restaurant like no other in the city. Its menu includes dishes from Malaysian Shrimp Fried Rice to Smoked Duck Nachos — more a selection of Americans’ favorite foods than classic American foods! On the last day of classes, the Chew Haven team went to Zinc to sample the flavors of this classic New Haven site.
If the weather is good, make sure to sit outside at the ever-so-photogenic outdoor patio. The lush landscaping and faded wooden fence will transport you miles outside the bustle of the city and put you in a mindspace to relax and enjoy Zinc’s innovative food and stellar wine collection.
Before we had ordered a single dish, a plate of herby, seedy flatbread was placed on the table with a small dish of mango sambal. It couldn’t have been farther from the traditional bread and olive oil — the flatbread was flavorful enough to eat on its own, with lots of fennel flavor and big flakes of salt. The sambal was rich with layers of flavor from the mango, ginger, and more spices than we could identify.
On the recommendation of the staff (and our own hungry bellies), we started with the classic Zinc appetizer of the duck nachos. The nachos were a clinic in how to pack a ton of flavor into a small package — each nacho had only a few shreds of smoked duck, a dollop or two of aioli, and a few microgreens, but they exploded with flavor in my mouth. Remarkably, no nacho was either over or under loaded with toppings. After trying several, I have come to believe the rumor that each nacho at Zinc is assembled by hand!
The other star appetizer was the pork dumplings. They arrived huddled in an unassuming pile in a beautiful ceramic bowl. But after pulling one out, I admired their crescent shape — is there anything more beautiful than a perfectly-crafted dumpling? The flavor was perfectly balanced between pork, ginger, scallion, and soy, and I found myself swirling my fork in the sauce to get one more taste even after the last dumpling had been eaten.
After we had been introduced to the food of Zinc, the general manager and sommelier Michael Egan came to our table to introduce himself to us. Zinc has an outstanding wine selection (one of the best in Connecticut!) and Michael is the reason why. Many of the wines are meant to go with specific items on the menu, but Michael doesn’t let the limits of the menu stop his efforts to curate and showcase the very best. “I buy good wine,” he said at one point with a laugh.
Wine isn’t the only drink on the menu either. Zinc has an amazing cocktail collection which features many locally-sourced liquors from Hartford, CT. On Michael’s recommendation, we tried Zinc’s take on the French 75, which featured Barr Hill Gin from Vermont. The 75 arrived in a tall wine glass. It was refreshing, fizzy, and very lemony — the perfect cocktail to celebrate the end of classes! But the Ananas cocktail was the real star. It is a mescal-based cocktail for true mescal lovers. It was smokey and aromatic, with only a tiny touch of pineapple sweetness. We could taste every elegant note of the mescal, and it will give a new perspective to mescal friends and fiends alike.
For the entrees we first cut into the Charred Vietnamese Chicken. The nuoc cham sauce made this dish — it was rich and salty, and I poured it heavily over every morsel of chicken. On the side was an intriguingly dark mound of purple sticky rice, which was hearty enough to stand on its own. The other entree was a thick cut of hanger steak, cooked medium rare. It melted in my mouth, as did the comforting sweet potato puree it was served with. And the brussel sprouts were sweet enough to win over even their most ardent foe!
Of course, we couldn’t leave without trying the Mango Chiffon Cake and Blueberries and Cream. They were two fruity desserts that tasted just like summer, and made us so excited for warm evenings and fresh berries in the months ahead.
Zinc is an ideal spot for a weekend date or group celebration. It’s the place where good food and good drinks are both plentiful, and you cannot go wrong with what to order!