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Terrible Japanese food at Ten Zen

I was in the East 50's and was walking around looking for a place to eat. I saw Ten Zen, it looked clean, inviting, and it was packed. Once inside I noticed there were no Japanese people working there. The host was Chinese and the staff varied in ethnicity. The displayed fish for sashimi and sushi looked scary. So I was smart enough to not get any of the raw fish. Instead I ordered 2 rolls ( shrimp tempura and california) they were not very good. But I felt it was safe. The shumai were soggy and terrible. The Yakitori was strange in looks was but edible. The miso soup was like water. The gyoza were still frozen when i got them. The vegetable tempura was so greasy.The tea was good, it tasted like roasted barley tea mixed with green tea.
But I think it is a good thing to go to a "bad" Japanese restaurant once in a while. When you frequent places like 15 East, Kanoyama, Yasuda, Ushi, Kyo Ya, Soto, kajitsu, Brushstroke etc you get spoiled. You forget how good these places are. Once you see what most people are eating when they go for Japanese food, you really appreciate the great and the good Japanese restaurants that NYC has to offer. So I thank you Ten Zen for reminding me to skip the bad places and stick to the good ones. I can't believe places like this are packed and people look like they are enjoying themselves.

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Tenzan
988 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10022

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  1. Do you mean Tenzan? There's a branch on 2nd between 52nd & 53rd. If that's where you ate, I share your assessment - it is not good. I ate at the UWS location once. I'm not a sushi snob, and obviously I survived the experience, but my sashimi looked like it was cut with a hedge trimmer, and the fish was...not in its prime, let's just say. I had the shrimp shumai to start; they had so much non-shrimp filler that they reminded me of pierogi.

    I know this place gets recommended fairly often, and I can't understand why. I feel the same way about Haru and East.

    3 Replies
    1. re: small h

      That's it Tenzan on 2nd and 52nd and 53rd. It's crazy that they do such a good business with such lousy food. But again, it makes me appreciate the good places.

      1. re: small h

        add Yama to that short list, in my experience. that place, along with Haru, epitomizes the bigger-is-better, quality be damned school of sushi vending. i actually had my first experiences with sushi at places like that, many many years back, and i also survived....but i'm not eager to return to that kind of dining experience.

        1. re: debinqueens

          true they all suck,, Haru though is Benihana and has made a fortune for the company.

      2. It really is appalling. I grew up on east 49th street and the dearth of any good neighborhood restaurants drives people to those hellholes. also, the few places there are teem with yuppie bro scum of the earth types... CF the smith. i think it's because it's a perfect midpoint between 57th street offices and murray hill.

        1. That the restaurant has a non-Japanese staff would not scare me away; it's clear that they are catering to the hoi polloi, and I know that it's not going to be an ethereal experience. If I crave sushi, and Grant and Franklin have gone into hiding, those types of places might be copacetic. Not good, but probably not lethal either. At the same, I'd wonder what Japanese people were doing running a take-out place with the words "auspicious" and "double happiness"...

          1 Reply
          1. re: BuildingMyBento

            Just as depressing here in the 'burbs of Connecticut. Can't believe people pay good money to eat questionable fish. I ordered a couple of Boston mackerel sushi pieces at a local place, figuring it would be one of the fresher fish out of the Stonington or Boston area. It was so brown when it came and I took the smallest bite of one piece. They had doused it in vinegar to try to hide the ammonia taste. I sent it back and ran out. And this was a place that got a good review from the Sunday NY Times Connecticut food critic.

          2. I share your sentiments!! I used to go to the one on 89th and 2nd before they sold recently to a Chinese group. Food now is very pedestrian and I'm sorry but Chinese "chefs" do not have the knowledge and skills to handle sushi. I'm particularly adamant for details especially with raw fish such as freezing the salmon before serving which I think should be law! For the unwitting-it kills any parsites or harmful stuff important to the consumption of salmon. Their tuna always tastes yuk!! I recently tried Sassabune and have become spoiled now! It was da bomb!

            1 Reply
            1. re: UES Mayor

              Haven't they always been owned and operated by a Chinese family? Either way, I'm not sure that's necessarily a death knell for a sushi joint, particularly one that is a neighborhoody spot that is simply offering up a reliable standby when you're not looking to shell out big. But, that being said, TenZan has always sucked and I'm baffled by how its got such a huge clientele (at least the one on the UWS).

            2. Clearly you didn't go to a Japanese restaurant, you went to one of those Japanese American restaurants.