Restaurant Review #31: Sushi Tenn, Sawtelle, West LA

Yellowtail scallion handroll-$8

Update: Sushi Tenn has permanently closed.

I can't help but want to eat at a place that I walk by all the time, even if I don't think it will be good. Sushi Tenn was one of those places. It has the trappings of trendiness, which I don't quite care for--backlit sign, sleek interior, noise, hip people--and never seemed to be very busy, and yet, I still insisted on trying it.

The restaurant is small, with about 5 largeish tables (it looks like there are more until you actually count them) and a bar that seats about 14. There are also four outdoor tables, one of which we took. I thought sitting in misty darkness would beat subjecting my headachey friend to the glowing white, echoey interior of the restaurant, though I was kind of disappointed to pass it up. Also, there was a wait to sit inside, and after a day on the road, I didn't have the patience for that.

A server promptly came outside to turn on the heating pole that sits between the four tables, which was nice. Our table, which I chose myself, was actually terrible for anything but food photography, due to the glaring fluorescent light that shone down from the restaurant's overhang. If I hadn't sat there by accidental choice, I would have been unhappy. The street noise wasn't too bad, partly because of the hedges surrounding the outdoor space, and partly because it was a Sunday night and traffic on Sawtelle wasn't bad. We were the only people on the patio, which was nice.

Clam miso soup-$4

I didn't order much, because the prices were exorbitant and I didn't expect the food to be great. My friend didn't order anything--there is virtually nothing on the menu for the non-sushi-eater, except for miso soup and maybe some of the salads. But no teriyaki chicken, no kobe beef, not even a decent cooked fish dish. True, there were a couple of cooked fish appetizers, but judging from the size of the tofu appetizer I ordered, it would probably take about 6 appetizers to even start to make a meal-sized portion of fish.

Now, I have a small appetite, but even for me the portions were small. I ordered a hand roll because the cut roll--a mere yellowtail scallion roll, which normally costs $6--was a whopping $14. I can't even imagine what the justification for that could have been. Sure the yellowtail was good, but it was not $14 good. The hand roll came on an ordinary small light green plastic plate, which meant that I was really not impressed with the presentation. What I was impressed with though was the presence of real wasabi. That's right. Real. Only once before in the probably fifty times I've eaten sushi have I gotten fresh wasabi, and I specifically had to ask for that. Wow! I wanted to just eat it straight. And I tried, too, but after burning my brain a few times, I had to give up. The interesting thing about the roll itself was that it wasn't rolled ina cone shape, and that the white part of the scallion had been used, rather than the green part. The fish itself was cut into rectangular chunks. I kind of prefer when they mince it, but that's just me. According to the restaurants website, the sushi chef believes in staying true to his native cuisine, so there are no spicy tuna rolls or California rolls. That's kinda cool.

The clam miso soup was good, and made me realize that there are different kinds of clams. I've eaten very few clams in my life, so I'm no expert on the subject, so I'll just tell you that the clams in the soup were like mussels and not like the thick, crunchy clam that is served as surf clam or giant clam when you order sushi. I think they used a brown or red miso paste, as opposed to the yellow that is almost universally used in most miso soups. The brown is a bit bitter and, I think, a bit tasteless. I'm not sure if that's what they always use in clam miso soup, since this was my first. It may have been a choice made in order to not detract from the delicate flavor of the clams, which were quite good. Still, I would have preferred yellow miso.

Tofu in sesame sauce-$8

The biggest disappointment of the evening, aside from the high prices, was the tofu appetizer I ordered. I was excited when it arrived because of the cool dish and because it came in a small ball--was it fresh tofu? I've never had fresh tofu! I was also shocked though--look how small that thing is! That cost $8? The flavor was quite bitter and the super creamy texture really threw me off. I couldn't even bring myself to eat it because of the bitterness, though I tried dipping it in soy sauce and various other things to make it taste better. I've never had bitter tofu before, and I didn't like it at all. Did they add something to it? Why was it so creamy? There was also a dab of wasabi on top hidden under the shreds of nori, which I probably would have been really unhappy about if I'd accidentally gobbled it.

The service was good, but the food was extremely overpriced and I didn't care for the atmosphere. Some of the prices here make Nobu look inexpensive! I'm glad I satisfied my curiosity, but I won't be going back.

Sushi Tenn
2004 Sawtelle Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025


Anonymous said...

Don't know about their a la carte items, but there are 3 different omakase's that deliver good quality pieces at a reasonable price.

Anonymous said...

For fresh tofu, u should try torafuku on pico.

Anonymous said...

I went to SushiTenn on Friday. Wow, this is the best sushi restaurant in the U.S. It's like a trip Tokyo! Americans just don't get it.

Foodie Universe said...

You are not the first person who has told me that Sushi Tenn is some of the best sushi they've ever had. Maybe I should try it again. I'm curious about what makes it the best sushi restaurant in the U.S.,in your opinion? If I am missing something, I'd like to learn what that is so I can appreciate it.