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Restaurant Review: Tensuke Express

Miriam Bowers Abbott Miriam Bowers Abbott Restaurant Review: Tensuke ExpressShrimp Tempura Udon — Photo by Walker Evans.
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The road to Tensuke Express is a well-traveled one for food fans. Tensuke Market has long been a popular destination for an expansive selection of Japanese groceries and ready-to-eat options. It’s nested near other heavy-hitters such as Akai Hana and Belle’s Bread. That is to say, the zone is perpetually bustling with activity.

Tensuke Express recently expanded its market-based operation. The express outlet debuted new digs a few months ago, it has its own doorway to its own space. The eatery offers counter service and a bright, pleasant clamor you might associate with a cafeteria. While it follows a quick-service model, it’s not like the common Chipotle fast-casual system. You don’t waddle down a line and point at stuff to assemble in a meal. You make choices, but you’ll have to do those at the counter when you order, and have faith that things will turn out okay. They will.

Menus available at the door let you prime yourself for making choices. There’s a big noodle selection: Ramen, udon and soba. All with a fixed set of companion options.

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Shall we? First up, Ramen ($9.75) with chashu (roasted pork) and tonkatsu. Tonkatsu is a reference to the broth choice, it’s a cloudy pork bone broth, and it does indeed taste like a pork bone (if you’ve ever gnawed on one). The broth is more viscous than expected. An order provides a generous portion of noodles with tender tiny greens, sprouts, half an egg, and fish cake (those are the white and pink slices, reminiscent of surami). It’s an okay start, but there are better things ahead.

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Big, fat Udon Noodles ($7.95) in broth can be paired with Shrimp Tempura: two sizable shrimp specimen crown the collection of noodles, seaweed, spinach and fishcake. The shrimp are gussied up like like sabers in a crackle coating, and deliver in terms of both firm freshness and crunch.

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Buckwheat-based Soba Noodles ($8.75) are a sharp contrast to the bright white Udon models. Bowls are built on a now familiar foundation of noodles, broth (traditional), seaweed, spinach and fishcake. For a topping, Spicy Pork Kim Chee was selected. As kim chi goes, it’s hard to have self-restraint, generally speaking. That said, it’s also impossible to distinguish wilted cabbage from wedges of pork fat: both get stained red from the kimchi, both are wilty. Those with strong aversions to squishy/chewy (guilty) are forewarned and directed towards something on the lines of a cutlet.

There are sides to round out the dining experience. Noodle soups, by their very nature, are pretty busy and entertaining, so extra side options are sort of like icing on the cake for those with attention deficit issues. Skip the Croquette ($1.50). It’s a bargain, but probably not worth the stomach space for a fairly bland potato patty. Chicken Karage ($4.95), on the other hand, is notable. As described, it’s Japanese chicken nuggets. That’s probably an apt description. They’re not processed, though, they’re smallish chunks of actual poultry muscle, coated and fried tender.

There are curry and rice options on the menu too, but the headliner at Tensuke Express these days is the noodle soups. You can find it at 1155 Old Henderson Rd.

For more information, visit www.tensukeexpress.com.

Photos by Walker Evans.

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