Monday, January 4, 2010

A Taste of Tengu

Tengu may refer to the name of the Japanese God of Mischief, but in Westwood it means sushi…fine, outstanding sushi.

As a fickle sushi-bar-hopper, even I find it impressive that I’ve been there five times over the last four years. The menu has changed slightly, as the Curry Tataki—a magical blend of seared tuna, curry oil and chili sauce—can no longer be found; and their Santa Monica branch has premiered and shut down. But the fact that this westside restaurant continues to thrive, even as many other fabulous places to dine abound nearby (including Palomino, a hip hotspot that just recently made its happy hour an all-day affair for the small-plate lover), is a true testament to its high grade of food quality and service.

It’s also one of the few restaurants that I’ve ever seen divide the surf and turf on its menu—there is a category called “Sea” which is separated from its list of “Land” dishes, both of which are preceded by its other sections of “Sushi Bar Signature Items” and “Specialty Rolls.”

So if you’re in the mood for Roasted New Zealand Lamb Chops or Filet Mignon instead of traditional Japanese fare, there’s a side of the menu that has been culled for the discriminating palate. From this side of the fence, I have ordered the Mushroom & Seared Togarashi Beef more than once—I think I was lured by its description of “marinated enoki mushrooms, micro arugula, balsamic reduction and white truffle oil drizzle…” The meat is tender, juicy and sweet, and the balsamic gives it tang while the micro greens mellow out the incisive taste, making it almost justifiable to cheat on sushi.

Tengu’s take on the proverbial Spicy Tuna on Crispy Rice—oddly named the Tuna a la Tostada—doesn’t have the integral perfection of Katsu-Ya’s version (could anyone's ever?) but isn’t bad, and instead of serrano chili peppers on top, it’s got its own unique venture of a topping which consists of ginger vinaigrette, an uber-light wasabi mayo, and green onions. Considering that this plate is four-bites-big, $12 is hefty, so be thankful that the sauces make it grand in taste as well.

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