Tenka Asian Bistro Hibachi & Sushi Bar
153 Boston Turnpike, Westborough
By Bernie Whitmore
The Taoist universe is composed of yin and yang, opposing forces that react with each other until harmony is achieved.
Tenka Asian Bistro has its own yin-yang. When my friend and I entered we were greeted with a decision: dine in the teppanyaki room where we’d be entertained by knife-juggling chefs handy with pyrotechnics effects or choose the tranquil dining room, more conducive to the contemplation of Japanese sushi and sashimi. I cast my vote for the sashimi experience.
From that moment on, we were treated to a level of attention that is very unusual. Even though she was still learning English, Hannah, our server, was eager to answer all of our questions and was effusive in discussing the recently celebrated Chinese New Year. And the floor manager treated us like VIPs; during the course of the evening he spent personal time at each table. He was a bundle of energy, humor and hospitality.
This was my first time at Tenka so I took extra time reading the menu to get a sense of the possibilities. In addition to hibachi and sushi, Tenka also serves Chinese entrees; this is an extensive menu that covers wide swaths of Asia-Pacific. Hannah recited the beer list and I decided to start with a bottle of Kirin Ichiban, a crisp pale lager imported from Tokyo.
Many of the specials start with soup or salad. We chose steaming bowls of Miso Soup, mild and wholesome with deep-green leafy wakame seaweed fronds and tiny cubes of tofu in each spoonful. It banished any remaining shivers of the evening’s arctic chill.
Midway through the soup course, Hannah returned with our Seaweed Salad. This is one of my favourites at sushi restaurants. Tenka serves a heaping mound of the brilliant emerald strands over cucumber slices and tops it with a cherry tomato. I love the texture, springy and slightly crunchy flecked with sesame seeds and dressed with an extraordinarily light vinaigrette dressing.
The excitement in the teppanyaki room often flared up in the form of bright flashes of flame reflecting off floor-to-ceiling windows, choruses of “Happy Birthday,” and clatter of metal ware slapping on stainless grill-tops. But this didn’t distract the sushi chef and soon our House Sashimi platter was ready. Twenty portions of perfectly sliced raw fish were presented on a large rectangular platter garnished with wasabi, sliced ginger and artistically presented sliced and shredded vegetables.
Sashimi, in my opinion, is the best way to appreciate sushi-grade fish. Free of sauces, spices and other ingredients, it’s simple and honest. Plus, there’s no hiding inferior fish. Tenka presented pristine-fresh slices of Sea bass, Bluefin and Yellowfin Tuna, Salmon and (new to me) White Tuna. Each bite was a delicacy summoning the ocean in its purest state, but the white tuna was the most beguiling. Tender, juicy and slightly sweet, I had to learn more about it. See http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/300084 for a discussion.
Tenka’s menu was laid out with unusual clarity. For example, its “Taste of China” section listed entrées in a simple vegetable-sauce-protein format that simplifies ordering. I chose String Bean Garlic Sauce with Scallops. Is it my imagination or are string beans especially delicious this winter? Tenka was no exception ~ they served a platter of crunchy-sweet string beans drenched in spicy garlic-soy sauce that gave refuge to at least a dozen jumbo scallops.
After such delicious sashimi, why not stick with Japanese cuisine? This logic led my friend to order Shrimp and Vegetable Tempura. Five huge shrimp radiated from the center over a dish heaped with tempura-fried vegetables. Each morsel was coated in a thin layer of batter and fried ‘til just a hint of golden crunch appeared. Tenka seemed to have ransacked the entire vegetable bin for this dish; it even included yam slices and chunks of eggplant.
The only note off key was our dessert, Flaming Tempura Ice Cream. I really should have known better than to order it; nobody makes good fried ice cream. Tenka’s coating was way too thick and soggy. But it was served with successfully tempura’d bananas that we happily devoured with the big ball of chocolate ice cream.
I realize there are several good sushi bars in the area, but consider a trip to Tenka Asian Bistro. Their sashimi is among the best and I haven’t seen any staff work harder to serve their guests.