Despite EN's location on Raw Fish Boulevard (aka Second Avenue) near such favorites as Wasabi Bistro, Saito's, and Shiro's Sushi (aka the Temple of Toro), this stylish, unassuming spot avoids the sushi conventions found at most American Japanese restaurants. Instead, EN offers what owner Wei Fu dubs "home-style Japanese" cuisine--the kind of food I imagine you would cook for yourself after a long day at work, whatever you have in your pantry with some steamed rice and a piece of fresh fish you picked up from the outdoor market near your cramped Tokyo apartment.
This is not to say that EN's food seems unexciting. I just mean that eating here can actually feel more authentic, more distinctly blue-collar Japanese, than nibbling on a pretty California roll or a gleaming piece of hamachi. Eating at EN means hot meals with humble components like seasoned tofu; grilled meats and broiled or steamed fresh fish (inexpensive fillets of halibut, cod, or salmon for everyday dining, not the fetishized, high-grade fatty tuna sushi chefs fight over); stir-fried noodles with a side of boiled, salty edamame; or hot rice with flavorful, soupy broth and pickled vegetables.
It makes a lot of sense, really, when you think about EN's "home-style" tendencies. Of course there's no sushi here! Who has time to fuck around with sushi at home?! Who's going to properly butcher a live bluefin and slice out prime belly flesh, make sticky rice with precisely the right amount of vinegar, and hand-roll everything nice and tight and perfect with damp seaweed... on a home-kitchen countertop... when they're tired and starving? This is obviously why sushi restaurants are so frickin' popular--you cannot throw sushi together yourself. And this could be why, on a recent balmy Thursday evening, EN was nearly empty at 8:00 p.m. "People come in and ask for sushi," Wei explained forlornly, "and I think maybe they're afraid to try something different."
Well, I'd like to suggest getting off your sushi high horse. You'll discover a compelling menu that takes risks, boasting less typical details like Japanese mayonnaise, Korean red chili paste, dried bits of shaved tuna, or fried mozzarella (!!!) wrapped in shiso leaves and seaweed ($4.75). And yet it's still comforting stuff: breaded pork cutlets (tonkatsu, $9.95), marinated fried chicken (kara age, $5.95), or sautéed cod with butter, lemon, and basil sauce ($12.95).
I could've eaten a huge cereal bowl full of the maguro salad ($7.55), shoveling into my mouth bite after bite of cubed raw tuna-- vibrantly red and fresh--tossed with creamy squares of diced avocado, minced celery (which added a clean, slightly bitter bite to the tuna and avocado's buttery richness), and mild wasabi dressing. Hotate shinjo (fried scallop cake, $6.95) was also delicious, with a pillowy texture and subtle, soft breading that didn't interfere with the taste of scallop.
I wasn't as happy with the EN Chicken ($9.25), breaded and sautéed with celery slivers and mushrooms (where were the enoki mushrooms, as promised on the menu?) in a soy-rice-wine sauce; sure, it was tasty, but rather soggy and lukewarm. But pan-roasted sea bass ($15.95)--soothingly tender and flaky, simmering in a gravy-like puddle with extra-virgin olive oil, mushrooms, and spinach--restored my faith.
I can't wait to return and try the octopus with pickled cucumbers, or the agedashi (crispy tofu in a dashi fish broth), or the parchment-wrapped chicken, or the ponzu beef burger. (Of course I'll have sushi every night when I'm rich and famous someday. But I'm not exactly holding my breath.)
EN 2429 Second Ave (Belltown), 770-0250. Lunch Mon-Fri 11 am-3 pm; dinner Mon-Sat 5:30-10 pm.
HEY WAITERS! I still need your rants, horror stories, and anecdotes for our upcoming food issue. Send your server tales to firstname.lastname@example.org today!