Tempura is one of those things that most people love, and it’s for obvious reasons: it is DEEP FRIED food. It’s a common Japanese dish that is usually made up of different types of seafood and vegetables that have been coated in a light, thin batter, then deep fried. If you get cheap tempura, you can expect the batter to be heavier, and if you get heavenly, delicious tempura, you can expect that the batter is super thin, yet results in a crunchy, crispy exterior coating. And the oil will be barely detectable.
Since tempura is common, it’s typically at any Japanese restaurant you will go to, assuming they do not just specialize in one thing (e.g. sushi, onigiri, ramen, katsu). But finding really notable, drool-worthy tempura is a bit of a challenge pretty much anywhere outside of Japan. Years ago, when I discovered a Japanese restaurant that specializes in tempura that opened here in New York, Chris scoffed at it when I told him it had one Michelin star.
“Tempura is so easy to fuck up,” he retorted. “Why would I have questionable tempura here (in New York City) and pay a lot of money for it when I can just fly to Japan and KNOW that it’s going to be good?”
And so, I suppose that’s what we did. We flew to Japan. And this time, we would eat tempura. So, tempura at Tempura Hisago it was for our last dinner on our second Japan trip together. Chris’s cousin and her husband dined with us, and we got a set menu, which included assorted seafood and veggie tempura, red miso soup, a rice bowl, various pickled vegetables (tsukemono), salad, your choice of alcoholic beverage, and a yuzu sorbet at the end. Once you place your order, all the food is made to order. There are chefs in the back of the restaurant that you can watch who are frying all your tempura right there. You can hear the sizzle of the oil, though somehow you cannot smell it. And when they bring the tempura over to you, it’s super hot and fresh. The tempura is served lined by parchment paper on plates, and when you remove the pieces, the tempura is so well drained that there is barely any oil remaining at all! The tempura was perfect: super lightly battered, with every bite nice and crispy. The seafood was cooked well with no rubberiness, and the vegetables were soft and tender.
And the value was excellent, as well: for all that food, which certainly made all of us full, we spent about $20 USD/person. We will miss this quality at these price levels.