Restaurant Review: TenPenh Tysons

TenPenh has staged a comeback in Tysons Corner. But it isn't quite the same as the original in D.C.

The concept that felt fresh 16 years ago—American chefs exploring and interpreting various Asian cuisines—also takes on a different light as we now embark on long-overdue discussions about cultural appropriation and authenticity.

TenPenh’s menu seeks to cover a lot of ground (maybe too much), spanning Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, China, the Philippines and Hawaii. You’ll find just about every trendy Asian food buzzword you can think of under headings such as Sushi/Sashimi, Dim Sum & Small Plates, Steamed Bao Buns, Ramen, “Rice Crispy” Bowls and Banquet-Style Plates for Sharing.

The trend-spree is notably evident in one dish that finds a piece of Nashville hot chicken in a bao bun with bread-and-butter pickle relish, and another that features the now-ubiquitous Hawaiian poke. At lunch, Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches and Japanese bento boxes are served in porcelain TV-dinner trays.

Amid the bounty of choices, there is much to enjoy. A “sizzling hot stone crispy rice bowl” comes out sizzling, as promised. Stir it all up so that the crunchy bits on the bottom commingle with the kimchi, carrot, zucchini and sesame-spinach garnishes, as well as Tunks upgrades such as smoked brisket and a poached egg, and you’ve got yourself a treasure trove of flavors.

Japanese yellowtail crudo. Photo by Jonathan Timmes

A crudo of thin-sliced yellowtail, lightly dressed in ponzu sauce with orange segments and jalapeno slices, is refreshing and pleasing in its restraint. A colorful jumble of raw kale, edamame, red and yellow julienned peppers, Napa cabbage, cucumber, toasted almonds and red cabbage in a gingery peanut dressing is a solid rendition of the familiar “Asian” salad. And thumbs up to a vegetable dish of curried roasted cauliflower with Thai lemongrass and ginger relish.

I’m a sucker for okonomiyaki, the savory Japanese cabbage pancake slathered with Japanese (kewpie) mayonnaise and eel sauce with a sprinkling of bonito flakes. TenPenh’s version, with shrimp and octopus, arrives piping hot in a skillet and passes muster. The same goes for an order of bao buns stuffed with pork belly, the meat having been correctly braised and aptly seasoned with five-spice powder. (Too bad the kitchen doesn’t make its own buns.) The steamed pork dumplings, spiked with ginger and hot chili oil, are worth double ordering.

Hot crab Rangoon dip. Photo by Jonathan Timmes

Other dishes prove problematic. A serving of ahi tuna poke drowns in dressing, diminishing the starring role of the fresh fish. Green beans stir-fried with chili are so salty from a surfeit of black bean paste that I have to return them. Four wan lamb chops bear the fate of being cut to different thicknesses, but cooked with equal time: One is blood rare, another well done, and the others in between.

The Bellagio sushi roll—a mass of tempura shrimp, salmon, avocado, rice and nori, topped with sliced tuna, avocado and colored roes—is an exercise in overkill. The slices are as large as biscuits and difficult to eat. (Although it is as over-the-top as its name suggests.)

Tunks is quick to tout the Peking duck, a labor-intensive operation in which air is put under the duck’s skin and the whole thing undergoes a maltose and anise bath, followed by a five-spice schmearing in the cavity, air-drying and another water bath before the bird is roasted and crisped up. And yet after all that, my half-order has no flavor at all, the skin missing its trademark crispiness and the whole resting on a slick of fat.

For dessert, the shaved ice (think large pencil shavings)—drenched in condensed milk and topped with fresh fruit and large, chewy boba (tapioca) pearls—is summertime in a bowl. I can’t say the same for a rubbery panna cotta with a blueberry compote reminiscent of grocery-store jam; or the key lime tart, which lacks the expected citrus zing. Both are disappointments.

There’s good and less-than-good at TenPenh Tysons. Which just goes to show that lightning striking twice is a rare phenomenon indeed.

What To Drink

TenPenh offers an extensive beverage program starting with a selection of signature ($10) and specialty ($12) cocktails. With ingredients such as lychee liqueur, ginger limeade and passion-fruit purée, you might expect these libations to lean toward the sweet side and some of them do. The Jade cocktail, made with melon liqueur, Malibu coconut and pineapple juice, is one such example. But most of the drinks are nicely balanced and quite tasty, among them the Rising Sun (Japanese whiskey, sweet vermouth, orange bitters). Generous martinis are shaken and strained tableside into chilled glasses—a welcome touch. Not surprisingly, the beverage menu also features a good range of sakes (including flavored dessert sakes), with flights of any three of them for $12. It also offers Korean soju, Japanese shochu and Chinese baijiu. One finds a variety of Asian beers such as Asahi, Singha and Kirin (with a few Belgian ones thrown in) and a wine list that includes about 15 selections each of red and white wine, sold in 6-ounce or 8-ounce pours, or by the bottle, most of which run well below the $50 mark.

TenPenh Tysons

7900 Westpark Drive, McLean | 703-910-3096 |

Lunch: Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Dinner: Monday-Thursday, 5:30 to 10 p.m.; Friday, 5:30 to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 4 to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 4 to 9 p.m.

Small plates: $6-$14 | Ramen/rice bowls: $13-$15 | Large plates: $18-$30

Valet parking available; free parking in an adjacent parking garage.

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Categories: Food & Drink