Zyng has no zing

Zyng, a national chain with more than 14 locations around the country, has recently opened a branch in Squirrel Hill. The chain?s website promises ?an exciting, fresh, vibrant, contemporary dining experience,? but don?t be fooled: Zyng?s bark is bigger than its bite.
Conveniently located next to the new Rite Aid at Forbes and Murray, Zyng?s flashy exterior is that of a hip bistro. Its interior is quite pleasant, with Chinese-inspired murals and bamboo arrangements placed around the restaurant. The atmosphere is something like the Olive Garden ? pleasant but not too intimate. The floor is tiled in a manner reminiscent of a fast-food restaurant, but the booths and tables are set up as in a medium-budget restaurant.
Upon being seated, my party was told by our waitress that we were sitting in the Tao center of the restaurant and that according to feng shui we would have a balanced meal. When all six people in my dinner party stared at her blankly, she explained that the whole restaurant had been surveyed by a feng shui expert. Her declaration proved to be wrong ? dinner at Zyng was anything but balanced.
The menu at Zyng is somewhere between a PF Chang?s and a Tech Street food truck. Everything is cheap ? remarkably so. Zyng has a wine list where all the wine is $4?$6 a glass and no bottle is over $20. In fact, for $20 one person can get an alcoholic drink, an appetizer, an entree, and some tea, as I did. Nothing on the menu is over $10. While initially this was exciting as it indicated the possibility of ordering more, I was soon disappointed. Zyng?s menu features many items made popular by the more upscale Chinese chain PF Chang?s. For example, Chang?s signature appetizer, the Mu Shu lettuce wrap, which consists of spiced tofu or chicken served in cold lettuce cups, was appropriated by Zyng. Zyng succeeds in making an otherwise innovative and delicious dish extremely bland and boring. The filling for the Zyng lettuce wraps was essentially a warm mush which had to be liberally coated with duck sauce to reclaim any semblance of flavor.
Other menu choices such as the Zyng?s Shock o? Chocolate cake are similar to the Chang?s equivalents ? in this case the Great Wall of Chocolate Cake. The martini menu at Zyng similarly tries to recreate Chang?s reputation for exotic drinks. One of their house drinks, ?Zangria,? was especially bad ? a bizarre combination of orange juice, Sierra Mist, and merlot.
Zyng does not succeed in becoming a budget version of PF Chang?s, having dishes that sound better than they actually taste, and a combination of decor and menu that leave customers confused as to how they should react. Is it a restaurant or a takeout place?
My group sampled the crispy egg rolls, the lettuce wraps, the pot stickers, and the Prince?s Wonton Soup as appetizers. All of them were the most generic versions of those foods that we had ever tasted. The soup was too salty; one of us likened it to Cup O?Noodles. The egg roll wrappers were thick and greasy, and the dumplings lacked any flavor other than the soy sauce they were dipped in. Zyng?s food could not even be properly compared to that of a shopping mall food court, where the food is greasy and salty but tasty as a result.
I trudged through the menu, sampling the Thai fried rice bowl and a Cantonese noodle meal-in-bowl, becoming more and more discouraged as I went. Zyng?s most popular entree is its meal-in-bowl, a customization option where the customer chooses the type of protein (beef, chicken, tofu, etc.), the type of noodles or rice, and the sauce. The customer can then choose to go with the chef?s selection of veggies, or go to a veggie bar to make a customized selection. The chef then prepares the entire concoction on a Teppan grill. These meals-in-bowls demonstrated the fact that Asian foods are not interchangeable. My selection of shrimp, wheat noodles, and sesame garlic ginger sauce resulted in something that looked and tasted like a student-made stir fry with a bottle of store-bought brown sauce. The yakisoba sauce was equally unappealing, but with a sweeter taste. Of the six people in my party, all of whom ordered different entrees, all agreed that their own entres of classic Asian dishes they had evg were some of the worst renditions of classic Asian dishes they had ever tasted. Zyng falls through the culinary cracks and crashes. It?s neither upscale Chinese, nor classic bad-for-you-yet-delicious takeout. It?s a failed hybrid.
After the appetizers and entrees, nobody wanted dessert, even though the waitress was kind enough to bring out a choosing platter. Zyng has a small exotic-leaf tea menu, so I decided to give it a try by choosing the guava leaf tea. Surprisingly, the tea was excellent. True to name, it was brewed fresh, and was an interesting balance of black tea and sweet guava leaves. The tea was by far the best part of the Zyng menu.
In truth, Carnegie Mellon students may enjoy this place. There is a degree of customization in the noodle bowls that is very appealing to people who want their food cooked to exact specifications. And for a sit-down restaurant, it?s cheap. But be warned, Zyng is not as great as it looks: The food is bland, uninspired, and certainly not authentic Asian. Better Asian food can be had all over Pittsburgh from Squirrel Hill?s numerous other Asian establishments or even from our own food trucks on Tech Street.