Hannosuke – Is Tempura Ready for a Close-Up?

26 Sep

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Tempura is usually thought of as a side-dish, one of the boxes in a $10 bento box lunch special. So how does a joint that only serves tempura hope to survive in the brutal winner-take-all food court ruled by Santouka?

Well as you can tell from the crowds, seems like so far so good. Going for the second time this past Sunday, I had never seen the Mitsuwa food court so crowded. The guy at the counter confirmed, a certain food kingmaker’s recent review had doubled traffic. (Señor Gold also reviewed Ramen Iroha, previously reviewed here.)

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The menu at Hannosuke is about the most limited I can remember – there are only three items: regular, seafood only, and vegetable only. It’s all ten-don all the time. The regular is really generous, as you can see in the pics below. A big shrimp, a moist chunk of whitefish, a square of nori, a slice of sweet potato, a shishito pepper, and some loose tiny shrimp and scallops. All served over a bed of rice with a drizzle of tempura sauce.

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Oh, almost forgot the deep-fried egg. You can kind of see it on the left in this close-up. If you go to the strange window and peer in, you can see them crack an egg into a small bowl with some tempura mix and then drop it in the boiling oil. If you get it just right, it’s beautifully runny, and adds richness to the rice mixed in.

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The real innovation is that they boil everything in sesame oil. It makes everything totally different. The texture is different, less crunchy, less light. The taste is much stronger, with the batter less a vehicle for a dipping sauce than an umami taste on its own. Speaking of which, there is no tempura dipping sauce. I love tempura dipping sauce and thought I would miss it. But between the runny egg yolk and the sesame oil the bowl is so full of taste it’s worth trying, even for someone who loves a regular ten-don.

So what’s the final verdict? I’m not sure everyone is going to like it, but it is something I am going to want again. It is a rich bowl, full of deep flavors of sesame and, let’s be real, fat. It is all expertly fried, with the whitefish especially moist and the egg (usually) gooey in the middle. The shishito pepper adds a nice vegetal counterpoint of spice. But many people are going to want more vegetables to break up the richness (maybe I’ll try the veggie bowl next time). And even then, some will not be able to get over the added oiliness the sesame leaves on the tempura.

So I guess I still feel a bit ambivalent. Maybe I’ll report back after a few more bowls.

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