Tengu, in Buddhist mythology, are mischief-making, mountain – and forest-dwelling goblins, possessing an ability to communicate with humans without moving their mouths, and during my visit to Tengu, the restaurant, their sushi communicated a message of beauty, elegance and flavor in a manner that had me paying very close attention to this special idiom.
Recently opened in Santa Monica, Tengu sits gracefully on Ocean Avenue between Colorado Avenue and Broadway, with the kind of breathtaking views of the Pacific that Santa Monica is famed for the world over, and is fast gaining a reputation for outstanding sushi and other Japanese dishes.
The décor is refined and subtle, but still possesses a certain august quality that is inspiring without being grandiose, a very impressive balance that is not as easy a task to achieve as one might think, so clearly a considered eye was present during the design of Tengu.
My guest on this occasion had never tasted sushi, and when our most learned server, Saska, discovered this, quite the most understanding and professorial attention was paid to us, with detailed explanations of the servings with helpful and empathic suggestions.
We chose to sample a variety of sashimi, rolls and sushi options from their comprehensive menu and began the proceedings with tartar (tuna with wasabi-miso sauce, $18) and seared albacore sashimi (momiji, ginger and ponzu, $18).
The tartar was exemplary, with the fine tuna cuts firm but tender, and the stripes of sauce perfectly complementing the fish, while the seared albacore was delightful, balanced and delicious.
The quality and preparation of the sushi at Tengu is clearly amongst the best available, and no dish exemplified this more than the blue fin tuna belly. Available at market prices, this is the choicest of tuna cuts, and was delicate, refined and flavorful with the taste unencumbered by fancy distraction. I would definitely recommend this as a must-have at Tengu.
Amongst the rolls we sampled were kurama yama (spicy tuna, shrimp tempura, vegetables, soy paper hand roll and no rice, $9) and a delightfully spicy mizore (crab, avocado, seared albacore, crispy shallots, carrots, jalapeno and ponzu, $19).
The kurama yama was a neat and crispy cone with a super-fresh taste and suggestive spice kick that, with the absence of rice, was deliciously light, and was a pleasant variation on the sushi theme.
The sake options at Tengu are many and varied, and the restaurant wisely uses the idea of sake flights; that is, a sampling of three two-ounce glasses of different types of the famed nectar that allows the diner to taste, and then decide which one suits their palate. The flights range from $12-16 and are appropriately named “elegant,” “sophisticated” and “non-traditional.”
Tengu is a special sushi restaurant with an inviting and disarming ambience that makes no bones about its star attraction, namely, the finest quality sushi, sensual and beautiful, simple yet elegant.
Expect Tengu and its mischievous beguilement to become a star attraction in one of Santa Monica’s most alluring locations, and as my guest commented after trying sushi for the first time, “That was one of the best dining experiences I have ever had.”
Tengu, 1541 Ocean Avenue, 310.587.2222.