Category Archives: Uncategorized

Tensuke Express

img_3245

Cuisine: Japanese
1155 Old Henderson Rd.
(614) 451-4010

As a born-and-raised-in-the-midwest American who has designed restaurant interior spaces, I always find something vaguely disorienting about Japanese restaurant environments. Everything is extremely orderly and astonishingly similar to what you’d expect from a Western environment, except for when it isn’t, and those minute exceptions accumulate until the mind starts to melt from uncanny valley overload. The new Tensuke Express is like that, times 100, and I love it to the point that I’d go there just to sit in the space and puzzle over it even if the food was awful, which it isn’t.

img_3249

Every second restaurant that opens in Columbus has this artful hodgepodge thing going on – mismatched chairs, scads of different light fixtures, fabric and material changes all over the place. Tensuke Express does too, but it doesn’t look like any of the rest of them. At all. While the norm is dark, brooding, reclaimed industrial, Tensuke Express is bright and shiny and new, with yellows and whites dominating. Sure, there are hanging window frames and rope decor elements, but also abaci, framed out room structures with names like ‘curry corner’, and dedicated bins for returning your chopsticks, soup spoons, and just about anything else you might accumulate during the course of your meal. It’s the rarest of things – a restaurant that doesn’t look, or even entirely function, like any other restaurant, but isn’t worse off for it.

img_3246

We weren’t the first customer in the space, but we were close enough to it to witness the celebratory picture-taking of the actual first. Restaurants are usually freaking the f*ck out upon open, but there was none of that – everyone we came in contact with (and they were emphatically not understaffed) was absolutely beaming with pride. The Japanese are well known for their reserve, but not even the strictures of culture could contain their unalloyed joy. As such, it was unexpectedly affecting.

So, lets get around to talking about food. Tensuke Express seems set up to primarily be a quick service noodle bar – ramen, soba, or udon. Pick a noodle, pick a broth, pick toppings, pay, get a buzzer that tells you when to pick up your order at the counter. There are some rice bowl and curry options, as well as a few sides, but those are relegated to a paper menu. It’s about the noodle bowls, people!, or so you’d gather from their prominence on the oversized menu boards.

img_3253

We got ramen – one tonkotsu with chashu, one miso with spicy pork kimchi. They were served hot, enough so that it actually made sense to slurp as the Japanese do, and to understand why they do it. The noodles were perfect, period. I’ll hazard to guess that they are actually making their own broths in-house, and the effort shows – they might not have been the best I’ve ever had, but they’re good, and better than you’d have any reason to expect on a restaurant’s first day open.

Which is a good enough reason not to delve any deeper into food at this point – they opened strong, but there’s plenty of reason to expect they’ll get even better. We’ve been semi-regulars of the old Tensuke Express, and the only thing that might compromise that is the new sushi bar Tensuke’s owners are putting into the old Tensuke Express space. It should be open in a few weeks, and we’re eager to see it and tell you about it. Stay tuned.

Dessert Bowl

IMG_1003.jpg

2839 Olentangy River Rd
Columbus, OH 43202
614.972.8827
Facebook
 

My (admittedly somewhat jaded) feelings about dessert are that most sweets are not too terribly different from most others, and when they are you often wish they weren’t. Consequently, it’s unusual for us to get overly excited about a dessert place.

This makes Dessert Bowl very unusual.

Dessert Bowl’s sizable Asian-style dessert menu is a distinct departure from the Western same-same, and amounts to a lesson on turning ingredients you’d never imagine finding in a dessert into finished dishes that charm with their novelty as they seduce with intriguingly harmonious flavor and alluring presentation.

Our first taste of Dessert Bowl’s cleverness came from menu item D10 – ‘Mango sago cream with pomelo in Mango base’. To demystify a bit, sago is nothing more than tapioca, and pomelo is a mild Southeast Asian fruit that is often described as a less bitter cousin to grapefruit. Mango is pureed with milk and coconut cream to create the base, and the fruit and tapioca combine with it to create a rich and tangy blend of tropical flavors and wildly varying textures. Spoons collided above this bowl more than once.

IMG_1032

Next we tried the ‘crispy glutinous rice balls’ (A4). It’s an inelegant name, in translation at least, that belies a spectacular experience. Filled with a sweet bean paste, chewy balls of glutinous rice dough are rolled in rice flour and fried. Then, six to an order, they’re placed atop a bed of crushed peanuts and drizzled with a syrup. If you’ve ever had Japanese mochi, you’ll immediately understand this dish and almost certainly prefer it. If you haven’t, skip the mochi and start right here – it’s that good.

IMG_1038

Crepes feature prominently, both in Asian dessert in general and on this menu in particular, so we tried the mango & banana version (K3). Filled with fresh fruit aplenty and drizzled with chocolate and another unidentified but tasty syrup, the only sense in which it didn’t satisfy was in the novelty department.

IMG_1034

For that, we turned to the ‘black glutinous rice congee with coconut’ (T9). Rice congees traditionally tend to be a savory breakfast porridge, so sweet piqued the curiosity. Our gamble netted us a warm bowl of nutty black rice combined with a sweet coconut base that featured a subtle salty counterpoint. Improbable though it may have sounded, it disappeared quickly.

IMG_1033

As did everything else. Our trio of grazers ordered all of the above after having already eaten a full and substantial meal. Portions were larger than we might’ve expected, and we approached the place expecting to taste but not finish. And yet, quickly, everything was gone.

Credit is due to the chef, a pleasant and congenial Malaysian gentleman who worked a stint at an Asian restaurant in a Vegas casino. He pointed to this experience as formative, and we can only imagine that it must have been. We like where it’s taken him. Simply put, on any short list of local destination dessert stops that include Pistacia Vera and Jeni’s, we believe that Dessert Bowl should feature prominently.

Last thought – if you’re looking for Zimmern-level culinary adventurism, Dessert Bowl can provide. The potently aromatic durian fruit is available in several dishes, and the spendy delicacy known as birds nest soup is the base for several others.

IMG_1008

Karen

IMG_0074

Japanese
5875 Sawmill Rd. Dublin, OH 43017
614.389.1890
http://www.karenjp.com/
Facebook

When I think of modern Japanese culture, I tend to think of all of the clever and considerate details that make so many mundane day-to-day experiences just a little bit more pleasant. The first time I encountered a toilet in Japan, I came away wondering why anyone should have to suffer an unheated seat, or how there could be any civilized way of manipulating the seat that doesn’t involve a button and a motor. Use your hands? C’mon!

And, where do you rest your used chopsticks? Usually, in Japan, on a beautiful little ceramic prop made just for that purpose. Opening product packaging isn’t an exercise in frustration in Japan, often it’s an aesthetically pleasing experience in it’s own right.

None of these things are particularly complicated or mind-blowing (OK, maybe the toilet…), but they’re all things that just didn’t seem self-evidently sensible until you had the chance to experience them.

Such are our feelings about Karen. There really aren’t many places that specialize solely in freshly cooked takeout-only meals (I refuse to include Little Ceaser’s…) but once you experience it… well, of course!

IMG_0075

Karen’s menu is surprisingly broad and easily navigated, and includes Japanese curries, tempuras, stir fries, and rice bowls. Sushi is also available, both in traditional Japanese styles as well as some more unconventional options that show serious local boosterism – Sawmill roll, OSU roll, Dublin roll, Columbus roll, and of course, Ohio roll. If you’re in the midwest but not of it, you can go your own fancy way with a Boston roll or a Philadelphia roll. And, if you’re a uniter and not a divider, there’s always the American Dream roll. Clearly Karen is intended to cater to both Japanese and American palates, but it comes at it from a decidedly Japanese perspective.

On our visit, we tried the yaki udon, pork shougayaki, kampyi sushi roll, and some kombu onigiri (rice balls). While none of them would rank as the best example we’ve ever had, all were solidly good, especially since none were more than $9 and portions were generous.

IMG_0079

Of all of the ways you could effortlessly put a good, hot, nutritious meal in front of friends, family, or the like, this has to be close to the top. Now to convince them to open one closer to us.

IMG_0076

Hamdi Grill

somali restaurant columbus

Cuisine: Somali
1784 Huy Rd, Columbus, OH 43224
614.592.9089

Hamdi Grill is a new Somali restaurant that opened this week. It is located just south of the Northern Lights shopping center on Cleveland Avenue.

The interior is surprisingly polished and a lot of money has been invested in the build out.

The menu is fairly large and includes drinks (not pictured).

hamdi grill menu

Of the dishes that we sampled (beef kebab, roasted goat, salmon and chicken stew) we’d probably give the nod to the chicken stew (aka suqaar) and would recommend the rice. We found all of the dishes to be solid but you can find better versions at other Somali restaurants around town. However, Hamdi Grill is in the first week and still getting up and running. They are waiting for their coffee machine to be installed and did not have all of the dishes listed on the menu.

As is typical of Somali restaurants the portions are large. Pictured below Somali chicken stew (suqaar) with chapati.

somali chicken stew

Salmon with pasta

somali restaurants in ohio

Hass

wood fired grill columbus

Cuisine: Mexican
7370 Sawmill Road, 43235
(614) 760-0155
Facebook

Simply put, Hass is good, solid, real-deal Mexican in a part of town that is largely lacking. Nestled between Anna’s and Sunflower in a strip center on Sawmill Rd. just north of 270, it operates as a (surprisingly refined) dining room that is semi-attached to a Mexican market (La Favorita). If there’s one thing we’ve learned in researching alt.eats restaurants, the restaurant-market connection gives us reason for heightened expectations.

mexican restaurants dublin ohio

Expectations met by Hass’s wood fired grill. The flavor of the carne asada (steak) coming off of it is definitely a cut above, especially in the ‘papas calientes’ – a grilled/baked potato that has been sliced open and flattened, and covered with the aforementioned asada, plus bacon, mushrooms, onions, cheese and salsa. It’s like alambres atop a buttery baked potato, and this is a good thing.

Mexican wood grilled potatoes

The selection of tacos is reasonable, with a fair range of options. Fans of spit-roasted al pastor should find contentment here – it’s a solid and enjoyable rendition that doesn’t (yet?) quite meet the lofty benchmark established by Los Guachos. Fish and shrimp tacos are good, as is the vegetarian taco (taco verde), filled with cactus, potatoes and melted cheese, known as the taco verde.

Burritos and tortas are also available, as are a variety of daily specials. Tostadas are freshly made.

Hass wood grilled tacos

Hass is very new, and in speaking with the owner he admitted that there are some kinks to work out with service and the like. In our experience this was true, though it was nothing major, and we wouldn’t let it deter you from checking it out if your in the area.

El Pollo Loco

New Peruvian restaurant in Columbus

727 Georgesville Rd, Columbus, OH 43228
614.754.6769

El Pollo Loco is a new – as in, opened yesterday (10/19/13) – Peruvian restaurant on the west side specializing in Peruvian charcoal-grilled rotisserie chicken or pollo a la brasa. If you had been to the late, lamented Fito’s on campus, you’ve almost certainly had a very similar style of chicken. Word to the wise – if you liked it there, you’ll almost certainly love it here.

pollo a la brasa in Columbus

The menu lists a wide range of options, but upon opening the chicken was just about all that was on offer, at least as far as entrees go. We did try an order of the salchipapas (french fries with thinly sliced hotdogs), and the papas a la huancayna (cold boiled potato slices in a creamy garlic sauce). Both are pleasant enough, though far from a reason to make a special trip.

el pollo loco peruvian chicken in Columbus

The special trip-worthiness comes from the chicken, which is incredibly moist and tender and wonderfully seasoned.

columbus peruvian food

El Pollo Loco also features a selection of Latin American sodas, including Inka Kola and Kola Inglesa, as well as some house-made beverages. The chicha morada, described as a purple corn drink, was particularly pleasant and had an interesting fruity, cinnamon flavor.

Haitian & American Restaurant

Haitian food

CLOSED

Cuisine: Haitian

1784 E. Dublin Granville Rd (161)

Click here to map it!

I have to admit that, prior to becoming aware of this restaurant, I’d given next to no thought to the idea of Haitian cuisine. And, upon learning of it, I presupposed we’d be in for something along the lines of Dominican and Puerto Rican – mild, plantain driven, and rice-rich.

And, assuming this restaurant is a good measuring stick, (and I’m inclined to believe it is…) well… kinda. Spicing is moderate, with the occasional kick of scotch bonnet peppers. Plantains are used, though their preparation was distinct. Rice, sure, but with a surprising twist. In spite of the similarities, our simple two plate meal made it clear that there was much that was unique to, and worthwhile about, Haitian preparations.

tostones

For example, the plantains with pikliz. The plantains were similar to Puerto Rican tostones in preparation (fry, smash flat, fry again), but semi-sweet plantains were used, giving it a flavor we found to be clearly preferable to any tostones we’ve had. The pikilz amounts to a cabbage slaw spiked with chiles – it was tart, bright, and spicy, and reminded us of an amped up Salvadoran curtido.

du riz djon djon haitian american restaurant

Next came the black rice with goat sauce. The rice is blackened by cooking it with a Haitian mushroom called djon djon, and was mixed with what I assume to be pigeon peas. It was served with a side of a reddish sauce containing chunks of skin-on goat meat (chicken is another option). Enjoyable, especially for those who appreciate a strong does of the flavor of mushroom (that’d include me).

legim

We also tried the ‘white rice with vegetables’, which is actually legim – a thick stew comprised of eggplant, chayote, cabbage, carrots and beef, flavored with epis (essentially a sofrito). It’s perhaps not much to look at, but make no mistake, it’s mild, hearty, and delicious in a very comfort foody way.

Haitian & American Restaurant’s decor is at least a half-step above what’s expected from its strip mall environs, and was very clean. Service was extremely friendly, and eager to answer the many questions we had about this new-to-us cuisine. The menu also includes American-style favorites (mac & cheese, hamburgers, and the like) as well as a $5 menu smaller portions (the dishes above were around $10 each and came with the plantain & pikliz).

We look forward to exploring its menu further, and would encourage you to do the same.