Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tenman Tempura, Nihonbashi (天ぷら 天万)

You could convince me that this was a 4th-generation, 100+-year shop if you wanted. Wouldn't be hard. It's harder to understand how they can stay in business.

The reason I ended up here is pretty simple - they're right around the corner from absolute greatness, and I've been trying to eat tempura at that absolutely greatness place for 3 or 4 weeks running. (Every time I go to Nihonbashi for lunch, which is a lot lately, I walk by just to make sure there are still 10 or 20 people in line. Always there. My colleague told me he got in recently by arriving at 11 AM and waiting 45 minutes.)

Some day I'll have to do a design study so I can understand what subtle cues transform this interior, with the same wall color, wood accents, and tables as a thousand other places, into something altogether more depressing. It may be the tables, which are set up in parallel rows like they're just trying to cram people in. It may be the other customer, a horribly deformed mutant. [Blow up the picture. Sorry, guy.]

Anyone would look horribly deformed if subjected to the ten-don treatment: being stripped, battered and fried, then served in a nice old bowl with a side of soup and some pickles. Why do ten-don places insist on putting lids on their bowls though? Being on rice is going to ruin the crispness of the fry pretty quickly; closing the lid to trap the steam is going to do it in a flash. Isn't the point of tempura the crunch? (And the perfectly-cooked innards, of course.)

The chef, by the way, has a problem with salt - the soup was oversalted, and the pickles were almost inedible, and you know that's a serious indictment coming from me.

Strangely though, the chef has a sort of way with fry. This is pure protein and cholesterol - squid, shrimps, and fish. No vegetable was harmed in its manufacture. There was something old-fashioned and tasty about these, like you hadn't had them before, but 50 years ago maybe everyone wanted their fry this way.

This is 2011, so they can keep it, but it was the best thing about the place.

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