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Tempura - deep-fried meats and vegetables - are usually a filler component or an afterthought at most Japanese restaurants in Southern California. Usually it's one or two pieces of Shrimp and a random vegetable or two, placed on that boxed lunch special as a way to add variation to a menu. Most Tempura that I've tried over the years in So Cal have been generally very oily (fried at wrong temperatures so that it soaks up even more oil than necessary), or the batter surrounding the meat/vegetable has been disappointing in some way (too much batter, so that all you taste is the fried batter, and not the actual main component; or soggy fried batter; or batter that falls apart when you pick up each piece of Tempura).
So after years of sub-par Tempura encounters, I've grown to avoid Tempura in general, thinking that it must be the "typical" deep-fried mess I've always had. Thanks to a tip from foodie Jotaru, I discovered Komatsu, a Japanese Tempura Specialist, devoted to the true Art of Tempura! Intrigued and hopeful I set off to try Komatsu last night.
Like many of the hidden gems / wonderful eateries around L.A., Komatsu is in a non-descript strip mall with just a simple sign:
We were early, and upon entering we were greeted by the sole waitress working that night, and Chef Komatsu himself. Chef Komatsu is a native of Shibuya in Tokyo, Japan, and his goal has been to open a restaurant focusing on the Art of Tempura.
Perusing the menu, Komatsu offers 14 different types of Tempura that you can order a la carte, or a Tempura Dinner of 9 different pieces of Tempura, or the Omakase course (Chef's Choice)). We opted for the Omakase and left it up to Komatsu-san's recommendations. In addition, they have an extensive Appetizer menu, made up of a variety of Izakaya-style Small Dishes. We opted to try a couple of dishes while waiting for the Tempura.
First up was Gyutan no Misozuke (Beef Tongue in Miso Paste). Visually, it looked like simple, chilled slices of Beef, but that belied the amazing marination and combination of flavors embedded within: Each piece of the Gyutan was extremely tender, and exuding a rich, wonderfully herbal and miso-laden taste with every bite! Very nice.
The other dish we ordered was their Kurobuta no Kakuni (Stewed Black Pork). I don't see Berkshire Pork being used for Buta no Kakuni very often, and it's one of my favorite dishes, so I had to try it. :) The dish arrived, beautifully dressed with a dollop of Karashi (Japanese Spicy Mustard) on top. Unfortunately, it was undercooked (not stewed long enough), as each piece of the pork was extremely tough and chewy. The marinade was wonderful and you could taste the potential, but that was all that was there.
Our Tempura Omakase began shortly after that, with our waitress introducing us to the variety of seasoning options for each course. Komatsu offers 4(!) different ways to enjoy each piece of Tempura, offering up Arajio (Coarse Sea Salt), Matcha Shio (Matcha Green Tea Salt!), Yuzu Shio (Yuzu Citrus-infused Salt), or the ubiquitous Tentsuyu (Tempura Sauce with Grated Daikon).
The first Tempura dish that arrived was made up of 2 pieces of White Shrimp. Within the first bite, I could tell that Komatsu-san truly loved his craft: The fried batter surrounding the Shrimp was nice and minimalistic, light and non-intrusive. It actually accentuated the Shrimp with each bite, and didn't leave me with a mouth full of batter, or overpower the Shrimp. It was fried perfectly in that it wasn't overly greasy or too soggy or too crunchy / overdone. Overall I thought the Matcha Shio (Green Tea Salt) matched the best with the White Shrimp. Excellent!
At this time, we were also brought out a bowl of Akamiso (Red Miso Soup). It was wonderfully hearty, with nice pieces of Wakame (Kelp).
Next up was Anago (Salt-Water Eel) Tempura. The inherent oiliness of the Eel made the Yuzu Shio pairing the best, but the common Tentsuyu matched nicely as well. This was another nice piece of frying by Komatsu-san.
The next dish was Mongo Ika (Cuttlefish) Tempura. I've never had Mongo Ika Tempura before, so this was a treat. The Cuttlefish ended up being an understated, lightly chewy consistency that matched best with the Tentsuyu (Tempura Sauce); it was a bit underwhelming, but not bad.
Their Megochi (Whitefish or Flathead Fish) was flown in from Tokyo, Japan according to Komatsu-san, and it was beautifully presented with its fin remaining unbattered and standing upright. Like the Mongo Ika, I've never had Megochi Tempura before, so I was looking forward to it. Unfortunately it was a bit too fishy and pungent for my tastes (similar in some ways to days-old Uni) when paired with any of the Salts. However, with the Tentsuyu sauce, the fresh-grated Daikon and stronger flavors and aromas of the sauce itself helped to minimize and soften the pungent flavor of the Megochi.
Next up was Hamaguri (Clam). Innocuous-looking, the Clam Tempura was very good, pairing nicely with all four different seasoning options.
The Ebi Shinjyou (Shiitake Mushroom stuffed with Ground Shrimp) was the highlight of the night (along with the White Shrimp). Amazingly fragrant from the fresh Shiitake Mushroom and the fresh Ground Shrimp, the Ebi Shinjyou was truly mouth-wateringly delicious! (^_^) The light, minimal Tempura batter was the final piece to make this the best dish that night.
The next item was a nice Kakiage version of Gobo (Burdock Root). Chef Komatsu took fresh slices of the Burdock Root and fried them together in a nice presentation that almost looked like shoestring potatoes. Being a root vegetable, this version of Gobo actually did taste a little bit like an earthier, alternate type of shoestring fries in a way. :) I thought it was OK, my companion loved it.
The next item was Tamanegi (Onion) Tempura. I love onions, so I was looking forward to this dish. Komatsu-san's Tamanegi was perfectly cooked as Tempura! The light batter on the outside was cooked to the right texture, and the inside, the nice slice of Tamanegi was cooked *just* to the point of being a little bit soft and cooked all the way through; not soggy or overcooked, and no parts raw, either. The fragrance of the Onion worked nicely with the Matcha Shio and Tentsuyu.
Komatsu-san's Asparagus Tempura was also really nice. Perfectly tender pieces of Asparagus, lightly fried and really allowing the vegetable to shine (not oily or swallowed up by the batter as seen in many restaurants). Very nice.
The final savory dish was Umeboshi (Japanese Summer Plum). Now that I think about it, this might be my favorite of the night (^_~), but it's an acquired taste. If you've never had Umeboshi before, it's a sun-dried Ume (a Japanese Plum-like fruit), and is extremely tart, salty and sweet all at the same time! It immediately brought up images of a bowl of steaming rice paired perfectly with the Umeboshi on top. :) The Tempura version here was wonderful: Extremely aromatic and so fragrant, and wonderfully tart and salty and sweet. Make sure you have some rice when eating the Umeboshi. :) Delicious!
The final item in the Omakase course that night was Satsuma Imo (Japanese Sweet Potato). Komatsu-san presented us with a giant, striking presentation of the Satsuma Imo: Presented whole, but already sliced into 6 pieces. What was impressive about the Satsumo Imo Tempura was that he deep-fried it perfectly so that the batter outside wasn't burnt, and the inside was moist and cooked all the way through, as if it was baked yams or sweet potatoes.
At this point we were so full, we couldn't really finish all 6 pieces, but it was tasty. :) They finished off the course by offering us a scoop of Ice Cream (Green Tea, Azuki (Red Bean), or Cappuccino). All-in-all, it came out to be ~$65 per person (total, including tax and tip). When we went, there was only one waitress, so the service was a bit on the slow side, but she was always courteous and helpful.
Komatsu is a wonderful Tempura Bar, and with Tempura Specialist Chef Komatsu at the helm, it's nice to have a restaurant devoted to one type of cuisine, especially one that's often overlooked in many parts of the U.S. While Tempura isn't one of my favorite types of Japanese cuisine, I've gained a newfound respect and interest in it, and will be gladly returning to this Tempura Specialty restaurant in Torrance whenever I'm in the mood for great Tempura.
*** Rating: 8.8 (out of 10.0) ***
1644 W. Carson Street, Suite B
Torrance, CA 90501
1644 W Carson St, Torrance, CA 90501