Dining Out: Zen Pavilion in Little Neck offers zesty cuisine in tranquil setting

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251-15 Northern Blvd., Little Neck


Perhaps it was the spray of purple orchids on each table, but I had the distinct feeling I was dining in an elegant little restaurant in Hawaii.

Zen Pavilion in Little Neck is an oasis of tranquility. Even the music is serene. It has the kind of soothing Eastern sounds that accompany a yoga class session.

The transformation of the unusually huge space that is now Zen Pavilion is quite remarkable. I’ve dined in all the transformations — as the long-time stronghold of Villa Bianca, Little Neck (no. 2), the new zesty Italian with balcony seating, the last, Persian with belly dancing on Saturday night.

It’s now all serenity and elegance, especially the service. I dined so well on a Sunday evening — a tasteful earth-tone setting, my most exciting vegetarian meal ever, and that superb service.

The saga began when I realized at the last moment that my guest was a vegetarian. A switch in plans was required. We’d veg out at Zen Pavilion where the food is certified kosher. Luncheon was being served in a small room off the entrance, bright and cheery. But even on Saturday, only a luncheon menu is offered (and the dinner offerings looked so enticing, interesting; details later).

Lunch began with sipping a delicious glass of vegetable juice with a straw. We ordered fried sweet yams — yam french fries, period. But the dipping sauces, one orange and one on the order of teriyaki, made the difference.

Soup came with the meal and we had a hot and sour and a wonton. The wonton was terrific, incredibly delicate. Kale and seaweed salad surprised us by being an arrangement of good-size cubes of tofu, a mound of kale (or spinach, if you prefer) and a mound of seaweed with a soy dressing on the side. We split it. Solo it would be lunch.

She seemed excited to order the sesame sensation: crispy wheat gluten in a rich brown sesame sauce. I ordered stir-fried Chinese eggplant with basil. My assessment of lunch was pretty much what I had when vegging out before (except that the fortune cookie here is presented tucked in the holder with the check. But wait...

I returned Sunday and was captivated by the ambience in the lovely main dining room. The service was amazingly superior. Later I learned that it was under the tutelage of Joseph, formerly of The Four Seasons. I should have surmised. There was the smart black attire, the well-polished look. The ease. That special way of gliding noiselessly to and from your table. And the unobtrusive attention to detail.

In the main dining room, there’s an alcove with shelves lined with bottled vegetables that some might say look like an Italian salumeria. To me it was the look of the Honolulu seed shops.

By all means order jasmine, an herbal tea, first thing. Tea is poured from your pretty, personal pot. It’s delicious and marries well from first course to last (I didn’t, I waited until dessert, and that was a mistake).

Mushroom-stuffed bean loaf was my appetizer. (There was a scallion pancake which I fancy. But I can’t resist something new.) The look was chic-thin rectangular slices arranged overlapping down the center of a rectangular Japanese plate plus a soy dip. And there were chopsticks (as well as knife and fork).

Diced veggie and fruit salad proved fascinating. Diced watermelon, honey dew, potato, crisp, peeled apple, and taro (a chestnut-tasting “potato” were delectable. The dicing was perfect for chop-sticking, even for the novice. But do use a spoon to sample the wonderful thin, creamy sauce. There’s not a bit of green, but, splitable, it’s topped with a pair of maraschino cherries — out of the 1940s.

Spicy walnut crepe as a Peking-style entree was an adventure. Here’s a vegetarian version of Peking duck that stands on its own. A tray is set before you: puffy, steamed bread rounds, walnut-coated squares of crispy soy crepe, three mounds — shredded carrot, shredded scallion, and shredded daikon. The server tops the pancake with walnut crepe, adds carrot, scallion and daikon, dabs on hoisan sauce, and folds the pancake over. And there you are, six of them.

Dessert was a tofu tart topped with that small, tasty huckleberry glaze. Now pour another cup of fragrant, Jasmine tea. But, of course, the server anticipated that already.

Chef’s Choice:

Dress: Neat casual

Credit cards: All major (except Discover)

Private parties: To 150

Children: Share

Take-out: Yes

Off-premise catering: Yes

Smoking: Nowhere on premises

Noise level: Serene

Handicapped access: Yes

Posted 7:25 pm, October 10, 2011
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