12413 NE 124th St
Kirkland WA 98034
Disappointing Pan Asian Meals
By: Grant Y
Driving on the stretch of 124th St in Kirkland near Totem Lake, you'd wonder what a Japanese sushi and grill place is doing amongst a row of car dealerships, tire shops and auto garages. We decided to find out what the story was behind Ken Zabaro and if this oddly placed restaurant was a gem in the rough.
The first of the problems started with parking, which was located behind the restaurant, in an uncommon loop-around fashion. Once inside, the friendly hostess seated us and offered menus and water. On the way in, I noticed that the specials on the board was black cod kazusuke, a tasty and authentic Japanese dish that takes days to prepare. As an authentic Japanese dish, this gave me high hopes for Mr. Ken Zaburo.
Opening the menus, we were surprised to find a myriad of Asian cuisines inside. On one side of the menu, the lunch specials included various bento boxes with options like chicken teriyaki, tempura, California rolls and sashimi. In addition, individual sushi rolls and nigiri were listed, ranging about $6 to $10 per roll and $3 to $5 for nigiri.
The back side of the menu showed an unlikely list of pan-Asian cuisines that included Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean and Thai. These weren't fusion dishes, but actual plates that included sweet and sour pork, kung pao chicken, beef pho, pad thai, chicken teriyaki and bento. For once, we were puzzled on what to order, as it was a first to see a restaurant attempt to cater to such a wide range of Asian tastes.
Ken Zaburo was tossing down the gauntlet with their extensive menu, so we decided to put the cooks to the test. We opted for the Pad Thai ($7), General Tso's Chicken ($7) and a Teriyaki Bento Box ($8) in order to try cooking from each region. We were hesitant on how things would turn out, but I still clung to high hopes given the black cod special on the board.
The bento box was first to arrive and upon inspection, immediately knocked our hopes of a good meal. The tempura looked flat, over-battered and far too yellow - all signs of a careless deep fry job. The teriyaki looked dry and was covered in liquid, light brown sauce that looked like a painful attempt at teriyaki sauce. It took our taste buds short order to confirm what our eyes saw.
The General Tso wasn't nearly as mushy as the tempura batter and had a better crisp factor. Steve noted that the chicken was overcooked and that the batter made up for more than half of the dish. The flavor was mostly a sugary sweet sauce and tart taste; not much better than the kind you could get at Safeway.
Reviewing my pad thai, I noticed a very peculiar flavor to the dish that made me pause. After a few bites, I asked Steve to sample my chicken at which point we both realized that it was raw in the middle. Pink spots were still visible on the inside and it felt lukewarm and mushy.
I of course immediately stopped eating my dish and set it aside. Given Ken Zaburo's poor performance so far, I didn't think it was even worth sending back to the kitchen. The pad thai tasted like ketchup and oil anyways, so no amount of repair in the kitchen was worth finishing the meal - especially at the chance of eating raw chicken parts.
In sum, the service was friendly and responsive, while the ambiance was mostly average. Pricing wasn't cheap or expensive either way, with serving sizes reasonable for most people. The pad thai was a disaster of course, while the other meals were barely palatable at best. Ken Zaburo will certainly go down in our books as one Kirkland restaurant to avoid.
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