With midterms in full swing, most of the food I eat either comes out of a microwave or is delivered to my door. Still, I celebrated my possible success on this week’s round of tests by visiting ZiZi BBQ House, a barbecue restaurant that recently opened at the University Village. With images of ribs, corn and the possibility of a juicy steak dancing in front of my eyes, I headed to the University Village to satisfy my craving.
As I walked in from the cold night air and grabbed a menu, I realized that ZiZi’s was not a steakhouse. The menu was written in both Chinese and English, and most of the entrees were standard American-style Asian cuisine: orange chicken, black pepper beef and honey walnut chicken. While slightly disappointed that my presupposition was incorrect, I switched gears and sat myself at one of the dozen tables situated in the restaurant’s foyer.
Our server was kind and eager, and quickly swooped over to our table to take the drink orders. Deciding against soft drinks and lamenting the fact that they didn’t serve alcohol, I chose the citron honey tea while my girlfriend ordered the jujube honey tea. The drinks were delivered promptly in paper coffee cups, but the tea itself did not disappoint. The tea was obviously freshly prepared, with bits of citron pulp floating inside while the jujube tea had a cache of diced, dried plums sitting in the bottom of the cup. As we sipped our tea and flipped through the menu, I looked around to gauge my surroundings.
ZiZi’s most apparent flaw is its lack of decorum and atmosphere. Aside from some red trim along the top of the wall, the entire restaurant is painted a dull off-white, which glows ghastily in the cold, fluorescent lighting. There is also a dichotomy between upscale and dive-y with some of the interior design. The chairs and floor are made of quality hardwood, while the run-of-the-mill tables are labelled with tacky sheets of paper with scribbled-on numbers.
The food service area features a display of their specialty desserts next to a stack of bottled sodas, and the quality entrees listed in the menu clash with its lackluster printing style. There are almost no decorations in the entirety of the restaurant, except for a solitary painting mounted on the wall. The stereo was turned down much too low for anyone to hear the music, and except for the sound of chewing or the occasional bout of arguing from inside the kitchen, the restaurant was as quiet and lifeless as a crypt, despite the moderate crowd of people eating.
For the entrees, we decided to order the hibachi New York steak and the honey walnut chicken. The food is served tapas-style, with the entrees arriving immediately and shared among the group. The steak came with steamed rice, a house salad with freshly made dressing and egg drop soup. The soup was nice and fresh, and the salad was unlike any I had tried before, as I was unable to identify the ingredients that went into the dressing. The steak was served first, and unlike traditional New York steak, it was cut into strips and served with caramelized onions and mushrooms, with a side of fried noodles and ginger sauce. It tasted wonderful, and I was amazed at how the chef managed to cook the steak medium rare while it was cut into strips.
ZiZi’s made up for some of its poor design choices with the presentation of the steak entree, which was served on a metal skillet inside a wooden cradle, still steaming. The chicken was not bad either, with the chicken tempura and candied walnuts accenting nicely with the clean, white china it was served upon. The portion sizes were immense, and we had quite a bit of leftovers after we had finished eating. We opted to not order dessert, partly because we were full to bursting after we had finished, and also because the desserts only included pre-made macaroons and cheesecake, which wouldn’t have paired well with our entrees’ hand-crafted charm.
While not spectacularly noteworthy, ZiZi BBQ House has pretty good food at an affordable price. Though lacking in atmosphere, its food will likely appeal to many UCR students. While I may not go to ZiZi BBQ House for a meal again, I would suggest giving it a try. If not for anything, go for the tea, it’s the bomb.