September 3, 2013
Tenmasa was founded in Tokyo in 1936. It has served many celebrities including Mahatma Gandhi, General MacArthur and Charlie Chaplin. Yoshiaki Hashii, the grandson of the founder, runs Tenmasa now on the 35th floor of the Marinouchi Building. (On its two top floors there are fifteen varied upscale restaurants serving this central business district.) Kent, Linda and I walked there for dinner on April 1, 2013.
Here is Tenmasa’s entryway in a small hallway of the 35th floor.
There are three rooms with horseshoe-shaped counters for eight to twelve diners. There is a semi-circular well for legs. The effect is a modern reference to the tatami entertainment rooms which were Tenmasa’s original “ozashiki” style.
We had a room to ourselves with a stunning view behind us over Tokyo.
But the more interesting view was of the tempura ingredients being cooked and placed in front of us.
We ordered sake; our glasses were refilled during the meal by the kimono-clad servers behind us.
The typical sauce for tempura, ponzu with freshly grated daikon, was put in front of us.
The appetizer was firefly squid.
Tenmasa uses a mix of cottonseed and sesame oil; its batter is quite light. They, and the right oil temperature, follow the secret formulas of the restaurant’s founder. Here is our chef, Hiroshi Kokubo, preparing the batter. He was concentrating, but normally he was smiling and genial.
He presented trays of some of the ingredients he would be cooking.
The first tempura piece was a headless shrimp.
Good. Photography was difficult. Many of the tempura dishes simply presented deep-fried batter on the outside, no matter what photogenic ingredients were inside.
Taranome, a prized bitter Spring green, the budding shoot of the Tara tree.
It went well after the sweetness of the shrimp.
Shirazu, very small, immature fish.
These were superb. I was surprised that they were better than the shiitakes, which came later.
Shirako or globefish milt with a wedge of sudaichi, a Japanese citrus zestier than a lime.
Creamy, with a delicate fishy flavor inside the tempura crust. It needed a squeeze of the sudaichi to gain interest.
The chewy texture and stronger flavor contrasted nicely with the previous dish.
The tempura cooking really brought out the flavor.
Uni, or sea urchin, wrapped in nori.
The uni survived this rough treatment, but it wasn’t at its best.
This was excellent. The ginger flavor really sang.
Two more shrimp.
The season had just begun. Tempura cooking works well.
Sillago japonica, or Japanese whiting.
Anago or sea eel.
Being less oily that the better known unagi, or freshwater eel, anago adapts better to tempura.
The chef presented a tray with other ingredients we could choose to add.
We declined, but did ask why he had not served the heads of the shrimp. He said that some tempura places do and some do not. He then served three to each of us.
Pickles and ten-don, rice topped with varied tempura.
Miso soup with little clams. Tea.
Excellent Japanese melon.
Green tea to finish up.
We had a very good time. Good tempura is part theater and part cuisine. Tenmasa was excellent on both counts. The flavors of the fresh ingredients really sang under their formula. Bravo.
Marunouchi Building 35F, 2-4-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo