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Sietsema Wants TenPenh To Shorten Menu

What the critics are saying this week

Aperto in D.C.
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

For The Washington Post’s $20 Diner this week by Tim Carman, he takes a bite into HalfSmoke and decides while “sausages star, it’s downhill from there.” Ouch.

As for the good news, installing an Argentine-style grill as “the focal point borders on brilliance.” Bob Kinkead, the James Beard Award-winning chef who consulted on the menu, helped HalfSmoke assemble “what has to be the finest selection of gourmet sausages in the city,” sourced from various local farms.

But once spice gets involved, his half-smoke is “choked to the point of muteness, even when ladled with chili.” He also finds the menu combos to be confusing, and ordering proteins on anything other than a bun (or next best choice, baked flatbread) makes it “easy to land in the ditch”:

“Allow me to illustrate: One evening, I stood frozen for minutes, puzzling out how to assemble a wild rice bowl topped with merguez sausage, one of many basic combinations available. The problem was immediately clear: The menu designers had not accounted for the link’s heat and North African aromatics when building out the toppings bar. There was no yogurt, no couscous, no chickpeas, no lentils, no mint.”

Figuring out toppings for Thai chicken sausage was also hard, as the link’s “ginger and Sriracha flavors were loud and incompatible with practically everything on the bar.”

Where HalfSmoke also lacks being intuitive is the ordering line, as sides like tater tots or mac-and-cheese bites (“both passable when fresh and hot”) are hidden in a corner and easy to miss. What also irks Carman is the lack of salt shakers on the tables. [WaPo]

The Washington Post’s Tom Sietsema gives the reincarnated TenPenh in Tysons Corner a visit and compares the Asian Fusion restaurant to its former life in D.C. The verdict: one and a half stars.

Its high-end design is mostly “easy on the eyes,” and the front bar resembles an “upscale airport lounge.” In the dining room, there’s “dreamy” semicircular booths with recessed lighting and a phoenix across the ceiling.

“Less formal than its predecessor and aiming for a younger clientele, TenPenh 2.0 reaches out to diners with free valet parking on weekdays, wines proffered in three portion sizes and service with a big, fat smile. Does the menu need to be so vast? Fewer but finer-tuned dishes would be a nice resolution for 2017.”

New additions on the menu this time around include dim sum snacks, bao buns, ramen, rice bowls and party-size entrees. And more regions are repped, including Cambodia, Japan, Korea and Tennessee (one steamed bun has fiery Nashville Hot Chicken inside). Another “cross-cultural pleasure” is the juicy lamb pot stickers, “arranged on a yogurt sauce whose accents flirt with both China (hot mustard) and the Mediterranean (pomegranate seeds).”

The “biggest attraction” are the crispy rice bowls, served in stone bowls to stage riffs on Korean bibimbap.

The “most labor-intensive” dish is the $60 Peking duck, but Sietsema finds “all that time and energy tastes for naught,” as he tastes slices of “dry, vaguely seasoned duck with less-than-crisp skin.” A better crowd pleaser is the platter of cumin-scented lamb chops on smoky caramelized onions, dates and Fresno chilies.

If sushi and rolls are your jam, best to eat them at a restaurant that really focuses on them (at TenPenh, the fish is cut too big and hides the rice, while rolls “are exercises in excess” since too many fillings mask flavors).

Back to the hits: Chicken gets a “nice lift” from its lemon grass skewer, and the shrimp toast “is a perfect companion to cocktails,” while salads offer “welcome punctuation.”

Of the three dishes that carried over from Jeff Turks’ original location, he’s “happiest” about being reunited with the shrimp and red Thai curry. [WaPo]

FROM THE BLOGS: DC Refined’s Nevin Martell documents a culinary trip to Baltimore, Bitches Who Brunch gives Aperto a try, and Brightest Young Things gives POV’s winter cocktails a taste test.