Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Taste test: Birthday fry-up at Inaba

premium sake sampler
My mother must have sown the seeds of a fledgling foodblogger by taking me on the orange RTD bus all the way from Santa Monica, down Wilshire Blvd. to Little Tokyo, when I was a child. We would sit at a tempura bar located somewhere on First St., and the man behind the counter would place little fried morsels in front of us one after another until we couldn't eat another bite. Then we would go across the street for red bean cakes at Mitsuru made in the same metal molds they use today. tempura of seaweed-wrapped clams
I wanted to repeat the tempura bar experience on my birthday a few weeks ago, but the only tempura bar left in Little Tokyo is in the Kyoto Grand Hotel. It's rather pricey, plus it's not open on Sundays, which was the only day we had available. So it was time for a field trip to Torrance, past the oil fields and giant malls to the strip mall that houses I-naba. Kathy and I started with sake flights, and mine had three wonderfully floral sakes. The frymaster at work
Then we checked off which type of tempura we wanted on a checklist like at a sushi bar. Inaba also specializes in housemade soba, so we tried both the hot and the cold variations. We had perfectly fried shrimp, squid, asparagus, lotus root, eggplant, stuffed shitake mushrooms, chicken and seaweed stuffed with clams. The shrimp, asparagus and chicken took to the tempura technique especially well. We left the impressive-looking sea urchin tempura for another time. Inaba is a lovely, tranquil place, and the man behind the counter really knows how to fry. cold soba noodles
It wasn't quite the funky place of my childhood -- actually the quality was much better, as they use organic items like Rocky chickens. They have a variety of set menus which combine tempura, sashimi and soba, starting at $20 up to elaborate kaiseki meals.
Restaurant I-naba
20920 Hawthorne Blvd.
(310) 371-6675


Anonymous said...

Senbazuru in Little Tokyo still has a tempura bar.

Kanani said...

Just the other day I was having a hankering for some really good tempura. Thanks for telling me about this. The only thing we have nearby is small mom & pop owned place up in La Habra on Harbor, but it's not a tempura bar like the ones back in the day.

Pat Saperstein said...

Right, Senbazuru, also known as Thousand Cranes, is the one in the hotel I mentioned. I'll have to try that one sometime when I don't have to go on a Sunday.