Zen Zero brings together fare from Nepal, Tibet, Thailand and Japan.

Now and Zen 

Zen Zero brings together fare from Nepal, Tibet, Thailand and Japan.

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That day's appetizer special combined the Thai-style spring rolls on the menu -- crunchy and filled with chunks of crabmeat and slivers of fresh basil -- with something called Thai toast, a slice of bread thickly spread with a spiced-pork concoction and put under a broiler until the surface was bubbly and brown.

My friend Bob was intrigued by another special du jour, a "salad that isn't really a salad," explained our server. "I mean, it isn't made with vegetables."

The idea of a salad without traditional ingredients appealed to Bob, and he ordered it. When it arrived, he noted immediately that the plate had a smattering of julienned carrots on it. But mostly, it was a heap of chopped pork, chicken and shrimp marinated in lime, tamarind, soy and chiles, then chilled and ladled on a big mound of hot, fragrant jasmine rice.

Ned perused the menu offerings and chose a bowl of green Thai curry while explaining that of all the spices most frequently used in curries, the restaurant's namesake, ginger, was reputed to have both healing and aphrodisiac qualities. He rhapsodized about his dinner, a jade-colored broth perfumed with green chiles, garlic, lemongrass and coriander, and swimming with pink shrimp, red and green peppers, yellow bamboo shoots and onion.

I couldn't stop eating my own curry dish, a bowl of cellophane noodles and pickled cabbage in a surprisingly light sauce that came topped with crackly Chiang Mai noodles. It packed a lot of heat but wasn't tongue-burning; the fire was deceptive enough that I kept eating, even though I was nearly drenched with sweat by the time I finished the dish. Maybe it had an aphrodisiac effect, because by the time I paid the bill, every server in the place suddenly looked like a movie star and my head was spinning. My friends hustled me out before I asked for an autograph. Or a date.

I tried to be better behaved on my next visit, this time with Bob and Debbie along for the meal. Once again, Bob ordered that day's special, which he'd seen printed on a board at the front of the restaurant: a salad of grilled beef, marinated in lime and chiles, lolling on a bed of curly endive with chopped tomatoes and purple onion.

"You know, I don't even like this kind of food, and I love this place," said Bob, a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy.

Debbie, who now lives in Australia, is a more adventurous diner and considered one of the six vegetarian choices before finally choosing a dish of mussels, shrimp and cherrystone clams in a punchy red curry. "It's delicious," she said. "This is the kind of restaurant we have all over Australia. A combination of Asian cuisines all melded together."

My dish was distinctly cross-cultural: Kansas beef -- flank steak -- marinated in green papaya, scallions, ginger, and garlic, then perfectly grilled and served on a mound of mashed potatoes flavored, ever so delicately, with wasabi. It was zensational, I must say.

After those head-clearing spices, we were ready for something cold and creamy to cool our palates. The menu boasts green-tea ice cream and a trio of tropical sorbets, but the true Zen experience is a silken coconut flan drenched in a soothing caramel sauce. Baby, I felt like Siddhartha after my second spoonful of that heavenly confection. Bob, always the rebel, ordered the dessert spring roll, a sheath of phyllo pastry wrapped around fresh bananas, cashews and chocolate, then deep-fried and served with vanilla ice cream. The banana becomes like baked custard inside the hot, crispy coating. After stealing a bite from his plate, I could understand his post-dessert nirvana.

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