With the rise of high-end sushi spots — including Q, Sushi Tsujita and Shunji, which offer intricate, Edo-style tasting menus — the idea of walking up to the bar and dropping a few hundred bucks on an omakase doesn't seem as outrageous as it did a few years ago.
But what about tempura? If you still envision it as something stuffed into a corner of a bento box, then Japanese restaurateur Koichi Endo wants to change your perception. Endo and his family own and operate three high-end tempura restaurants in Kyoto (and a wine bar) and have just opened their first U.S. location in Beverly Hills, a cozy, 16-seat restaurant with a wooden bar up front and a matcha tea room in back.
At Tempura Endo, no detail is overlooked. The batter is made from a special "weak" flour that's low in gluten; the frying oil is a blend of imported cottonseed, safflower and sesame oils; and the table comes stacked with five flavored salts: green tea powder, yuzu, truffle, rice powder and tongue-tingling sansho pepper. Each piece of tempura is fried to order in a copper tub, then laid out on a sheet of paper, which allows diners to see how little grease soaks through the crisp, delicate batter.
Of course, much like those top-flight sushi restaurants, Tempura Endo will cost you: Artisanal tempura tasting menus range from $180 to $280 per person. But Tempura Endo's most intriguing secret is that from 10 p.m. until midnight you can order à la carte, allowing you to sample a range of Japanese delicacies without breaking the bank.
Below are five of the unique offerings that get tossed into Tempura Endo's fryer:
Prized sea urchin is showing up on more menus than ever, but few serve it the way Endo does: wrapped in seaweed and deep-fried, with a sprinkling of truffle salt on top. If you've never tried a mouthful of molten uni, the sensation is oddly satisfying.
Ultra-marbled Japanese beef gets a quick dip in the fryer to give it a crispy crust while keeping the inside raw. A dab of sharp Japanese mustard helps cut the richness.
Endo's house-made black sesame tofu is so rich and velvety, the chef admits drunk Japanese customers sometimes mistake it for shirako, creamy cod sperm sacs that are considered a treat in Japan. Either way, this opulent take on agedahsi tofu is unique.
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Scallop with Truffle and Caviar
You might have tried fried scallops at your local fish 'n' chips joint, but Endo takes it to a new level by filleting the raw scallop and stuffing a sliver of black truffle inside, and topping the whole thing with caviar. All that's needed is a squeeze of lemon on top.
Corn on the Cob
Deep-fried corn sounds like the most American thing ever, so maybe it shouldn't come as a surprise that Endo developed this special creation for its first U.S. location. A section of kernels is carefully cut so that it holds together while frying, then sprinkled with salt softened with rice powder (for a mellower salinity).
Tempura Endo, 9777 S. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 274-2201, beverlyhills-endo.com.