January 2004 TenPenh

TenPenh is a good example of the reasons for their success: striking decor, attentive service, and an interesting but accessible menu.

The second of three successful restaurants owned by the team of David Wisenberg, Gus DiMillo, and chef Jeff Tunks, TenPenh is a good example of the reasons for their success: striking decor, attentive service, and an interesting but accessible menu. TenPenh was designed by Walter Gagliano as a contemporary American restaurant with Asian accents, many of which he gathered on journeys to the Far East with the owners. The menu likewise visits several Asian cuisines, picking and adapting freely to suit contemporary American tastes. Peking duck becomes a Peking-style duck roll using the ingredients of the Chinese classic but in a form easier for American diners to eat. A thoroughly American ahi-tuna burger with a Japanese wasabi-flavored French aïoli is served next to a China-meets-the-American-South five-spice pecan-crusted halibut. The style would be easy to parody if it weren't so delicious.

Tunks and chef de cuisine Cliff Wharton have a keen sense of the uses–and the limits–of their Asian sources of inspiration. The salinity of Malpeque oysters, for example, is thrown into relief when topped with a granita of pickled ginger and sake. In Tunks's signature Chinese-style smoked lobster, Asian spices set off the sweetness of the lobster meat. Both dishes are superb.

Pastry chef David Guas takes on the challenging task of making Asian-inspired sweets appealing to the American palate using the same restrained, basically American approach. Doughnuts are dusted with coconut and served with coconut-caramel pudding. Crème brûlées are variously flavored with coffee, macadamia nuts, and ginger and vanilla–imaginative combinations of comfortable ingredients.

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