New restaurant Zen to offer contemporary atmosphere, diverse Asian cuisine

Posted Feb. 22, 2011, at 4:49 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 22, 2011, at 7:30 p.m.

Say you have a craving for sushi, artfully arranged on the plate for both your visual and gustatory pleasure. Your spouse, however, wants a spicy, boldly flavored curry dish. And your friend who’s joining you wants a big bowl of hot soup, to warm up a cold night. And their friend wants steak. What do you do?

Well, you go to Zen, of course, a restaurant featuring Thai, Japanese and Vietnamese cuisine all under one roof. The restaurant is slated to open the weekend of Feb. 26 in the space that was formerly Epi’s pizza on Main Street.

The three-story brick building is quickly nearing completion after months of renovations. In addition to the restaurant on the ground floor, there also will be a lounge upstairs. Currently the basement is occupied by Valance Pilates Studio.

The restaurant is the brainchild of 23-year-old Jira Rustana, who is the son of Thai Siam owners Chinda and Wirawan Rustana. The business will be family-operated, and according to Jira Rustana, the building was not only a chance for his parents to own a commercial property after 20 years of leasing spaces in the Bangor area, but also an opportunity to bring more culture to the city.

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“We’re very excited to open. I view Bangor as growing and we want to contribute to that growth and help to lead it,” said the younger Rustana. “We also felt it was important to offer a variety of things — something for everyone.”

He says Zen will be unique for its atmosphere, as it will be “chic and unlike anything Bangor has to offer.” The motivation, he said, was to bring something more metropolitan to the area.

The interior is painted a bold orange tone, with contemporary lighting at the bar, and views of the upper floor of the restaurant. The walls are painted in earth tones and are accompanied by dark floors and ceilings. There also will be a sushi bar, and the restaurant will employ more than 20 workers.

Zen will seat 99 customers and the tables will feature floral arrangements and VIP seating in certain sections, such as at the head of the dining room. There will be traditional Japanese seating, where customers will take their shoes off and make their way up a small stairway to sit on the floor. If that’s not appealing, booth seating is available.

Chinda Rustana added that the space formerly was not being used for its full potential, and the family had been planning for some time to open a restaurant encompassing a variety of Asian foods. The family bought the building in October, and the space has developed into a contemporary atmosphere that features diverse decor and themes representing the cultures of the foods that will be served there.

A lounge upstairs offers comfortable seating and large sofas, where the family says Bangor’s professional community can come to unwind after a day at the office. Jira Rustana said plans for the lounge also include a grand piano and live entertainment on a balcony overlooking the dining room.

The menu, Jira Rustana says, is meant to be as diverse as the venue’s ambience. He says the food will be “tasteful and healthy,” with extra attention given to preparation and presentation.

“We’re going to be serving quite a few things,” he said. “Everything from sushi and Japanese-style steaks, to a Vietnamese soup called Pho.”

Pho is traditional Vietnamese soup popular in larger cities. It is made up of a slow-simmered beef or chicken broth, often flavored with spices such as cinnamon, ginger and various chilis. The broth is then filled with rice noodles, thinly sliced cuts of beef or chicken, and lots of garnishes — from green onions and bean sprouts to loads of fresh basil and cilantro. Hot chilis and fresh squeezed lime juice finish the dish off.

The family indicated although Zen will serve Thai food, its restaurant Thai Siam will remain open and continue to offer its current fare.

Though Zen will open by the end of the week, the family said the lounge will take another month or two to open. In all, Jira Rustana said, Zen is a work in progress.

“We’re discussing a lot of things for this place right now,” he said. “The goal is to see if Bangor can support a venue like this — if so, then we could expand upon the ideas here with more restaurants or more offerings at Zen.”

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