Deep in the heart of Westwood, there is a restaurant that will playfully tempt you in a naughty way. Tengu, named after the Japanese god of mischief, is the place to go if you want Asian fusion and sushi laced with a nightly groove soundtrack provided by an eclectic house DJ. Owned and operated by the same team behind Nacional, The Lincoln and The Backyard, the atmosphere is similarly trendy and sleek. Traditional Asian fare combined with American classics and pan-Asian influences create a varied menu sure to please those who love everything from the land and the sea. Trendy collegiate students, industry workers and the occasional celebrity frequent this tempting spot.Read More ...
Just past the intersection of Lindbrook Drive and Tiverton Avenue in Westwood Village, there is a restaurant that will tingle your tastebuds. Over the past 8 years, Tengu has stimulated the crowds who frequent the restaurant: college students, young industry hopefuls and all-around sophisticates.
Behind the ironclad gates, the doors to Tengu open up to a dimly lit adult playground, full of buzzing crowds and sensual smells. When the restaurant opened in 1999, it was another 'Hollywood' hot spot for beautiful people. Now, the big names aren't as numerous, but the occasional celebrity still pokes his head into the door every now and then.
Named after the Japanese God of Mischief, Tengu's aura is designed to be playfully naughty. The appearance is casual chic, and the mood is bustling and upbeat. The vibe is very East Coast with its sharp corners, dim lighting and stark interior. The decor is somewhat monotone in color, playing with those few colors, hues and tones to create an atmosphere that feels warm and comfortable.
The location stays busy at night, so the noise level can be overwhelming at times, especially when combined with the ambient sounds of the nightly DJs that set up at a DJ booth in the main dining room. The music is just the right blend of slick beats that slip you into a melodic trance. It's the kind of music that guides your body into a rhythmic groove without you even noticing. The best thing about a good restaurant DJ is that you forget he's even there—the music should mesh so well with the experience of the food that it can only add, not detract. Tengu's nightly line up of musical jockeys know how to blend everything just so, gliding you through your meal from start to finish.
If listening to a DJ scratch is not something you enjoy, then there are other places in the restaurant to enjoy the food and atmosphere. With its separate lounge, bar seating, tables for couples or large groups, there is room for everyone at Tengu--from the lone diner to the party of ten.
The cocktails at Tengu add to the mischievous factor of the restaurant—what better way to be naughty than with a strong drink? The signature Sake Cosmo blends sake, lime juice, triple sec, cranberry juice and ginger, perfect for those who like their drinks sweet and spicy. If you're in the mood for something light and sweet, try the Japanese Sangria which blends plum wine, red wine, and pineapple sake. The Kyuuri Lime may be the most interesting with its mix of citrus flavored vodka, lime juice and Japanese cucumber.
There is a decent variety of sakes: junmai, ginjo, oka and even pearl, komekome and ki-ippon for those who like things non-traditional. If the evening is truly about experiencing new things, try the sake flight, which offers a sampling of three different sakes. Sake Sundays mean half-priced sake drinks all night, which is a great way to take advantage of their offerings. The wine list, with its variety of French, Australian and Californian reds and whites, provides many exhilarating choices, so the wine connoisseur and the average wine drinker alike can find something to their liking. Several French champagnes adorn the list—Dom Perignon, Vueve Clicquot and Moet of course. And it goes without saying that the bar is stocked with several different Japanese beers such as Asahi, Kirin, and Sapporo, and even a non-alcoholic bubble gum soda.
In terms of service, Tengu was top notch the evening of our visit. My party had a reservation, and we were seated promptly. The two hostesses were full of smiles, and we were led to a table for three just to the left of the main sushi bar and very close to the kitchen. The sushi bar is rather high, so it blocked most of our view of the restaurant, although I did have a nice peripheral view of the DJ booth, the tables just in front of me and the left half of the bar, visible through the far wall's dividing pillars.
Our waiter paid us the night's first visit, leaving menus before he left to fulfill our drink orders. The salad and vegetable selection is extensive, with a delicious mélange of warm and cold plates—some topped with hot meats, others tossed with fresh fruits—that will please anyone wanting healthy alternatives. The appetizers will make your mouth water—blue crab cakes, citrus black cod, grilled prawns, tuna tempura, chicken gyoza, and seared togarahi beef (to name a few). The entrées include sea bass, tuna steaks, teriyaki chicken, filet mignon, and even lamb chops. By the time we reached the actual sushi and sashimi lists, we were officially overwhelmed with choices. The list of specialty sushi rolls is enough to work any sushi aficionado into a frenzy, and there is a long line of tamer choices for the less experienced.
For the first course, the Asian Pear and Arugula Salad and the Edamame were perfect appetizers. The edamame came out piled fairly high in small black bowls. It was salted just enough to offset the bland, starchy taste of the soybean. Each pod was boiled just right, to the point of softness just before they became wilted. The salad was amazingly vibrant and pleasing. It was sizeable for an appetizer, enough to share a few bites amongst two to three people depending on your appetite. The mixture of sweet, soft fruits and rich, pungent blue cheese contrasted nicely with the crunchy walnuts sprinkled throughout the greens. The apple-cider vinaigrette emphasized the sweet flavor of the pears and played off the arugula well. The combination was delightful, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed their portion.
We found ourselves feeling fairly full after noshing on our vegetable-filled starters, when our waiter swung by check on our approval of the food and also to take our main order. He was quick and courteous. We had several questions about specific sauces such as the chili-lime sauce on the sea bass, and we wondered just how spicy the mix of jalapeno, chili pepper and habanero ponzu in the diablo roll was. We placed our order and chatted as we watched other tables dig into their colorful and full plates of food.
After about 20 minutes, our dishes arrived all at the same time, creating a color wheel of foods that looked and smelled wonderful. The table was so full of food that our waiter had to do a lot of handiwork to push and prod glasses and the table candle to the side. The Asian Tartare was a delightful and delicate mix of sizeable, fresh tuna pieces piled high and served with fried wonton pieces and a signature soy-lime dressing. The soft tuna pieces clicked pleasantly with the crispy, fried wontons on the plate. The pinkish and light violet chunks of tuna and the green hues of the avocado sauce and the soy-lime dressing formed a gorgeous color combination. The smooth, tangy dipping sauce highlighted the tuna well, providing an interesting mix on the tongue. It was a little sour for my personal taste, but the tangy quality was offset a bit by the pure flavor of avocado. If you're truly a fan of tuna tartare, keep in mind that you can have your plate with a pile of three layers or four even, so there's the option to get more bang for your buck.
The Scallop and Spicy Tuna Rolls were pleasantly light and refreshing. Both were served on separate black speckled plates, each with a dollop of wasabi and a few pieces of ginger. Each roll was neatly cut into six pieces just under an inch high, set in two rows of three pieces each. They were three layers--light salmon-colored scallop flesh in the center, white rice comprising the middle section and then the deep, shiny green of the seaweed. The scallop rolls had a very subtle flavor enhanced by a little punch from the salty soy sauce. Each bite was quick and effortless. The scallops were fresh, and each piece literally slid into my mouth without much delay.
Our waiter checked in again as I picked up the first piece of spicy tuna. After just a few seconds of chewing, I realized that it was indeed spicy. Not so much that it overpowered the other flavors, but because the wasabi sneak up on you, resulting in a slow-building yet lasting sensation in the mouth. A quick dip in the soy sauce pared down the heat, and the salt also went well with the flavor of the little pieces of tuna dynamite. Unlike the scallop rolls, the tuna rolls were a nice darkish pink color inside layered with white rice and the shiny seaweed. Because they disappear so quickly, it's great to order two or three plates of the rolls so everyone can get a taste. With our twelve rolls in total, we each had ample tastes of everything.
The Chicken Teriyaki is a great choice for those who may not be ready to try sushi for the evening. If you are a lover of teriyaki, try the Tengu version. The sauce was a balanced mix of sweet and salty. The light molasses-colored glaze made the bright steamed broccoli and carrots and the white, creamy potatoes stand out on the plate next to the ample breast of chicken. Each piece of broccoli was firm and crunchy, and the carrots had a natural sweetness that was highlighted by teriyaki sauce that seeped over to that side of the plate. The chicken was grilled to perfection. Every bite was succulent. The light teriyaki glaze combined with the juicy chicken was enough to keep me from putting my fork and knife down. It also made me wonder just how amazing the Teriyaki Salmon and New York Strip could be, and I created a mental checklist of what to try during my next visit.
When the plates were bare and taken away, we all looked around at each other in satisfied amazement. We wanted nothing more than to finish the night off with a sweet sake as an after dinner drink, but our bellies were full and our eyelids were heavy. The waiter recognized this preliminary stage of a food-induced coma, and he presented us with the check.
The gods looking over Tengu worked their magic on me, and it was an experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. Between the atmosphere and the delicious food, I left impressed. And with events like Sake Sundays, and the “Hours of Mischeif” (Monday-Friday 5:30-7:30, half priced sushi rolls and appetizers), I wanted to return. It's hard to not fall prey to Tengu's tricks because the more you allow yourself to sit back and enjoy, the more you want.
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If you're a fan of sushi, I would highly suggest hitting up a Los Angeles Hot Spot called "Tengu".When I first walked into Tengu, I noticed that it was not at all like yor typical Los Angeles Sushi Resturants.