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Zinnia

The Myth Doesn't Quite Fit

After the decline and fall of the much-loved Myth, there had been a lot of guessing about what Myth chef Sean O’Brien’s next move would be. After much anticipation, O’Brien opened the doors at Zinnia in October 2008, just blocks away in the former location of Scott Howard (and the Cypress Club before it). While Myth’s menu was heavily influenced by O’Brien’s years at Gary Danko and the Ritz, Zinnia shies away from adventurous cuisine in favor of the simple -- and unfortunately -- the pedestrian.

While Myth felt a bit like stepping into a woody, mid-century modern box, Zinnia's multi-leveled floor plan, tall metal partitions and cavernous space feel more like a mid-90s airport lounge. Aside from some very artful floral arrangements, it is a fairly bland space.

We began our meal with a roasted cauliflower-cilantro soup. The soup claimed to contain the thrilling combination of chili oil, lemon grass, and ginger, but these potentially invigorating elements were barely in evidence, and we were served a watery cauliflower puree. If it had come out of a microwavable box on a cold night, there would be little to object to, but as a dish at an ostensibly serious restaurant, it was sorely lacking. We were in need of some alcohol to kill the pain of what looked to be a dismal dining experience, and our waiter suggested an interesting dry rosé to accompany our fish course. It was a surprising but admirable choice.

Moving on to the sea, we took to the seared scallops with chanterelles, which were excellent. The scallops were extremely fresh, perfectly seared, and the delicate earthiness of the chanterelles was an ideal bedrock for the richness of the succulent little mollusks.

We also enjoyed a small cut of Alaskan black cod, very fresh and rivaling the scallops in the perfection of searing -- almost crisp at the browned edges and busting with moisture. This was (surprisingly) served on a disc of daikon radish. Both these dishes were perfectly simple and excellently executed. Things were looking up for Zinnia, and it seemed that the tired décor was a serious mismatch with this subtle fish cookery.

In exuberance, we drained the last of our rosés and ordered a very nice Chinon to accompany our meat course. When the bottle arrived, our waiter (the sommelier being nowhere in evidence) warned us that we might want to let it warm up a little before drinking it.

Thinking that he must have some occult knowledge of the micro-degrees of room temperature appropriate to different vintages, we sampled the wine and were shocked to find that it had been served ice cold! This lovely Loire red had just been pulled from the fridge! We insisted that he bring us another bottle, and he apologetically took it away. To our astonishment, the second bottle proved to be just as frosty as its brother!

Our meat courses arrived between these chilly bottles and proved a disappointing sequel to the fish. The meat section of Zinnia’s menu was apparently cribbed from a Midwestern restaurant situated on the top of a bank building, as the selection ranged from steaks to spare ribs to a pork chop. We tried the steak and pork chop, and there was nothing special to speak of in either dish.

The brined pork chop was a cut above something from Denny’s, but completely forgettable, while the steak was slathered in sticky, sweet caramelized onions! Any merits the steak had on its own were ruined by the syrupy onion mess. Neither dish was at all enhanced by its accompanying glass of water, and we were at last gladdened when they finally brought our Chinon in a decanter. This, however, was warm to the touch and had probably just been left in the kitchen, perched on top of an oven.

California Cuisine
Financial District
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Reservations Essential? No.