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.
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.