I was pretty much unaware that tempura could be transcendent. Turns out it can, and it can even earn two Michelin stars. At the twelve seat bar in Tokyo run by Chef Kondō Fumio each faultlessly fried bit of vegetable or seafood is delivered in a crunchy, lacy, little package which you either dip into tempura sauce or eat with a little lemon and salt. While he has help behind the bar to prep and batter the food, Kondō personally fries each piece to perfection, so this isn’t a super speedy meal, especially by Japanese standards.
I have to say this had to be one of my favorite (out of a pretty nutty array of amazing) meals in Tokyo. Some people say that after you eat sushi in Japan you can never eat it again in the US. I don’t think I’ll have that problem (though there were a few bites, like the uni at Mizutani that I don’t think will ever be replicated) but I might be ruined for American tempura.
Some of the stand outs from our meal included:
A deep fried shrimp head. I think this was my favorite thing period. I need to eat more shrimp heads, they were in a number of things we ate in Japan and they are seriously delicious (at least when fried).
The shrimp bodies were pretty excellent as well. Not at all over cooked and incredibly sweet.
Some seasonal vegetables followed including asparagus, lotus root, and some of the most amazing fiddlehead ferns I’ve ever eaten – I know what I’d be making all spring if I could replicate this batter:
There were many other excellent courses but I thought the two most interesting were the icefish wrapped in shiso and then fried. These little buggers are pretty bizarre, even though the flavor was pretty much like a typical white fish. It’s hard to tell from the photo but these are a bunch of individual clear noodle like fish. While we were at Tsukiji earlier in the trip a man standing in line next to us told a story of drinking them alive in a glass of water at a sushi place where he ate. I’m thinking that would have been a bridge too far for me. I’m not guessing actually, I’m sure I would not have enjoyed that.
The other was tempura sea urchin. Another item I’d not encountered before. I liked the crunchy texture with the creamy filling but like many things the flavor was over powered by the shiso. Can I suggest wrapping the uni in squash blossoms? For some reason I think that would be amazing.
The meal ended with pickles, soup, and rice. Followed by some fresh fruit. Bob ordered the slightly more expensive menu which also included tempura scallops which were sweet and delicious even though I was packed to the gills (pun intended). My one regret is that we didn’t buy his cookbook. It was all in Japanese so I didn’t think it would be useful but now I’m realizing I’m sure I could have conned a friend into providing translation services. Alas …