Review No. 105: Zen Rice and Ramen
605 Salem Road
52.4 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants
She Said: I was eating down a cold, and the perfect prescription seemed to be a tasty, fresh, noodle-y soup like ramen. So, we went to see what Zen Rice and Ramen could do for my health.
He Said: I go where She Said tells me.
She Said: We used to come here when it was Bai Tong, and we couldn’t help compare the décor. It’s different, with more light colors contrasted with a vibrant purple. I like the vibe, and it’s definitely comfortable, but not cozy.
He Said: Physically, the layout is exactly the same as Bai Tong. But they’ve taken down the various ethnic Thai pictures and redone the walls with a kind of abstract tree pattern and a kind of wavy pattern, all done in a light gray. There’s a large screen TV in the corner, which seems pretty standard in most places these days. I’ll agree that it’s comfortable. Maybe a little bit businesslike rather than cozy.
She Said: Still stinging from having made a stupid choice for water instead of fruit tea at Taqueria Gonzalez, I decided to look at the specialty drinks and chose the Thai tea. This is a sweet tea served with cream. It’s delicious, cooling and refreshing. It’s not too sweet, and the cream cuts the power of the sugar. I thought I might get dessert when I sat down, but in the end, this became my dessert.
He Said: They have Coke products here, but no root beer. So I opted for the Dr. Pepper. The server was happy to bring me a refill without being nagged for it.
She Said: The menu has more choices that I expected because I was thinking it would be ramen-centric. And if I hadn’t been down with a cold and already focused on ramen, it would have been hard for me to resist the pad thai, because that is one of my favorite things to apply to my face in the world. Another time, pad thai. Another time.
We did choose to share the vegetable tempura appetizer, though. This was delicious, and I could eat this as a meal—I could even share this and get enough to eat. First off, the tempura onion rings are complete heaven, but once I discovered the sweet potato tempura slices, I was obsessed, and I didn’t leave any for He Said to try. I dive-bombed that plate with my utensils until they were all in my belly. The sauce adds some verve to the morsels, but they are delicious without it, too.
I carefully perused the ramen choices, and vacillated among the tempura shrimp, the duck and the shrimp, but finally chose the shrimp as it seemed light and healthy, and I knew I was going to get my recommended daily allowance of tempura with the appetizer. This dish was amazing. First of all, it was beautiful. You’ve seen ramen, and if you’re on Instagram, you probably can’t escape the photogenic quality of the dish: the golden broth, each colorful ingredient perfectly placed, including half a boiled egg, mock crab, bok choi, pretty pink shrimp, skinny mushrooms, floating diced green onion and the foundational bed of noodles. This dish tasted as good as it looked, which is saying a lot. The shrimp ramen comes in the shoyu broth, which is soy-sauce based, and it was really perfect for the ingredients of the dish. The ramen comes with a deep spoon and I used chop sticks to pick things up that didn’t fit well in the spoon. I could not have been happier with my choice, and I will definitely be eating this again—it will be my go-to when I have a cold for sure. I may have even been cured by the time I left the restaurant!
He Said: Ditto on the tempura veggies, Jones. The frying isn’t the greatest thing for my pancreas, but it’s a light batter and hey, it’s vegetarian, so I probably could have made a meal of this alone. Let me advise you, dear readers, that you get a lot of food here. Even if you share this appetizer, you may not have enough room left for your lunch. I know I couldn’t finish mine.
Ramen does seem to be having a moment as the current food fad, but since She Said was having some I thought I’d try a different entrée and picked the fried rice. The dish contains fried rice with eggs, onions, tomatoes, and scallions, and you can choose your own protein with either chicken, tofu, or shrimp. If I were really desperate about the fat intake I could have opted for the tofu and I’m sure it would have been fine. But chicken is not very high in fat, so I chose the chicken, and was glad I did. It was tender and nicely done, and was a perfect complement to the rice and vegetables. I added a little soy sauce, which is my personal weakness in Japanese restaurants and probably demonstrates unequivocally to all Japanese waiters what a gauche gaijin I truly am. Still I liked it and would probably order it again. But there was quite a Fuji-sized mountain of rice on that plate when it came, and I couldn’t quite conquer that entire mound, having already gorged myself on the appetizer.
She Said: For some reason, I was expecting to order at a counter, so I was happy to see that Zen is a sit-down-and-be-waited-on restaurant. I found the service very attentive and professional, but not hovering or distracting.
He Said: We had two servers, one who took the order and another that brought it and came back several times to check on us. Both were friendly, courteous and professional.
What We Got and What We Paid: Vegetable tempura appetizer to share, shrimp ramen, Thai tea, Dr. Pepper and fried rice with chicken, all for $37.91 before tip. Remember this included an appetizer, so it’s a little more than you might normally expect to pay for lunch here.
Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 14 minutes to appetizer, 33 minutes to entrees. If you need to be in a hurry to get back to work, this might not be your best choice for lunch.
She Said: Zen serves delicious, fresh food you’ll want to get in your belly.
He Said: This is good Asian food that should please the Conwegian palate.
So… He Said and She Said: Go here for some of your favorite Asian dishes, but not for a quick lunch.
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