WASHINGTON — When Jeff Tunks opened his Asian-inspired restaurant TenPenh on the corner of 10th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW in downtown D.C., competition wasn’t an issue.
That was in 2000 — long before Penn Quarter became a harbor for sleek dining rooms with celebrity chef-drive menus and institutions such as Rasika, Zaytinya and Fiola introduced Washingtonians to more modernized international cuisine.
“Sixteen years ago, we were sort of groundbreakers,” said Tunks, who is the chef at TenPenh and partner at Passion Food Hospitality.
As far as restaurants go, TenPenh had a successful run. It was open for 11 years before it closed. (Tunks explains the lease was up and the cost of doing business in that location was getting to be too expensive.) But now, five years after shutting its doors, TenPenh is back in business.
Tunks reopened the restaurant with a new menu and a new location in Northern Virginia’s ever-expanding Tysons neighborhood in early December.
“It’s sort of a rebirth. We call it TenPenh 2.0, I guess,” Tunks said.
One reason for the restaurant’s resurrection is because, simply put, it was always Tunks’ favorite out of several others his restaurant group opened — and closed — over the years.
“From all the restaurants that we’ve had … TenPenh was the one that people talked about and missed the most,” Tunks said.
The new location on Westpark Drive is a nod to the restaurant’s original clientele, many of whom, Tunks says, have left the city for the suburbs.
“I think people like the idea of not having to go downtown to get a downtown experience,” he said. “I live out here, and I like the quality-of-life commute instead of going downtown.”
Another reason for the suburban address? The competition downtown isn’t as light as it used to be.
”Downtown has become so saturated with restaurants, and I think that was one of the reasons why we looked out here in the suburbs. I thought we would make a mark more,” Tunks added.
Diners will find a few of TenPenh’s original dishes at the Tysons location, including Thai red curry shrimp, deep-fried whole crispy flounder and Chinese-style smoked lobster. However, most of the menu received a major makeover.
Sushi, which was absent from TenPenh’s downtown location, is a main focus at the new spot. There’s also ramen, hot stone bibimbap bowls and bao buns.
“Styles have changed in eating in 16 years, and I think we’re trying to keep contemporary with that,” Tunks said.
The updated fusion of traditional Asian flavors with the latest food trends is evident in the Nashville hot chicken steamed bao buns, the pork crackling chips with spicy Thai chili and the vegetable-based shared plates.
Moving away from a three-course meal progression to a more casual, tapas-style experience was another conscious effort of the reopening.
“People can try more of a variety of food and have a lot more to share. They can explore a lot more of the menu,” Tunks said.
Yet despite the restaurant’s expanded offerings, Tunks has been told that one thing is missing from the menu.
“Everybody wants the wasabi mashed potatoes back on the menu,” he said.
That may be a possibility — if only for a Friday-night special.