Ten-yo-ne tempura: Under the tracks in Yurakucho

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013



I have a soft spot for these hard places under the tracks in Tokyo. They scratch out an unglamorous life in the shadows of this gargantuan city.

Tenyone close up tendonTen-yo-ne is a minute or two from Yurakucho station and a world away, in a few hundred meters, from the glamorous Ginza.

For decades, Ten-yo-ne tempura has been serving up Edo-style tempura, dark and savory, cheap and delicious.

It’s a tiny place, of course, with a pale blond counter of smooth hinoki seating six.

On the other side of the narrow kitchen are a few small tables filling an unadorned dining space illuminated with the thin timeless wash of fluorescence. Every once in awhile, you can make out the rumble of trains passing overhead.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREA rack of newspapers and manga are available for free reading while you wait for your tempura to fry.

The jo-tendon (¥1450) is the dish of choice here. Glistening in their burnished gold batter, atop a bowl of freshly prepared rice, are two large prawns, a kisu white fish, some mushrooms, a shishito green pepper, a shiso leaf, and a small kakiage “dumpling” of sliced, mixed veggies and tiny shrimp.

The teishoku set menu includes a small dish of well-made pickled vegetables, a bowl of miso soup, and a tiny dish of seasonal vegetables sprinkled with sesame seeds.

A counter seat over on the right side is the most interesting place to sit.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREPositioned there, you can see the crowd of fresh vegetables waiting in the wings for their turn on the tempura stage.

Plus you can observe the master while he cuts, batter-dips, fries and assembles your tendon bowl.

The lunch for about ¥1000 is a great deal at Ten-yo-ne.

You can sit elbow to elbow with salarymen, office women, and sales staff from the nearby department stores and shops.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREIf you are up for an adventure, stroll down the underground passageway to the left of Ten-yo-ne. This narrow, tunnel-like alley is perhaps a kilometer or so long, filled with tiny restaurants, bicycles, and the ghosts of Tokyo past.


2-1-10 Yurakucho, Chiyoda Ward. Tel: 03.3591.0926. Open Monday to Saturday 11am to 9pm.




Ten Asa: Hidden tempura spot in Ginza

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Much of Ginza’s nightlife is on side streets such as the ultra-expensive Namiki dori with its hostess clubs and exclusive expense account-only restaurants. But one block over on Suzuran dori are a myriad of cheaper drinking holes and eateries clustering toward Shimbashi. Many of these spots are hard to find, but none more hidden than Ten Asa, one of my favorite tempura restaurants, and a quintessential Ginza experience.

You approach Ten Asa down a dark cleft, barely shoulder wide, between two multi-story buildings. Walk past blue plastic garbage cans, strumming air conditioning units, ragged mops, perhaps an alley cat or two, and eventually you’ll spot the glow of a lighted sign at a noren-curtained entrance. Slide open the door and you’ll find a lovely, traditionally appointed restaurant with an L-shaped counter seating nine.

Ten Asa serves a great lunch, the tempura teishoku set (2700 yen) or the less expensive tendon box lunch set (1600 yen), but to appreciate the full tempura experience, you need to try a dinner course such as the Yumei (6800 yen) with its eight tempura tidbits.

Arriving at 5pm on a recent evening, I had my choice of seats, but soon other customers drifted in: A grey-haired gent in an elegant brown kimono, then a pair of businessmen in shirts still brilliantly white and crisply starched.

The course features seasonal vegetables, fish and other delicacies, lightly battered and crisply fried, interspersed with several other dishes, including a starter, a small salad, then rice, miso soup, pickles, and finally a dessert.

Tempura marries well with a cool glass of Chardonnay (1000 yen) or a flask of chilled saké, such as the rich and mellow junmaishu, Daishichi (2800 yen), but most customers order a cold bottle of lager (850 yen). With your drink, you’ll get a few deep-fried hone sembei, “bone crackers,” including the cord-like backbone of an anago eel, salted and crunchy, tied into a pretzel; a crisp ribbon of kisu fish backbone, and two sets of delicate shrimp legs from the crustaceans you’ll soon be eating.

At a leisurely pace, each item is placed on the folded sheet of pristine white paper in front of you: Baby corn, complete with silk, cooked to a popcorn-like nuttiness. A shiitake mushroom as thick as a ribeye steak and just as meaty. Megochi, flathead fish, with firm tasty flesh. A tiny eggplant. A golden onion, the size of a ping pong ball, sliced in half.

Just add a touch of the Okinawan sea salt, says the chef.

A woman in a deep blue kimono glides in and sits next to the grey-haired gent. She is of a certain age too—her coiffed raven black hair shines. Her crimson nails click on the beer bottle as she pours him a fresh glass. Soon they are engaged in lilting conversation.

Next to me another businessman enjoys his tempura while reading a book on Buddhist statues. Dessert comes—a scoop of deep pink plum sherbet, flecked with ume flesh, and a cup of jade green sen cha.

The kimono couple laugh. A lover’s tryst? Who knows? Who cares? It’s the Ginza after all.

8-7-19 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-5568-6200. Open Monday to Saturday. Lunch 11:30am to 1pm. (L.O. 2pm). Dinner 5pm to 10pm. (L.O. 9:30pm). Closed Sundays and Holidays.



Old Tokyo landmark: Tenshichi tempura in Kyobashi

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

A short walk from Tokyo Station, the Kyobashi district bristles with towering office buildings aglitter with sunlight, but casting sumie-shade shadows on the narrow warren of side streets which skirt them. Side streets which like faded engravings reveal dim outlines of Edo.

Down one such side street, Tenshichi serves tempura in a manner unchanged in 80 years. The interior of the shop was constructed from timbers from old fishing boats. Scars from barnacles fleck the ancient wood. A pendulum wall clock tick tocks the passing minutes. A cast iron kettle filled with sesame oil is fed by corona of blue gas flame. Two panes of hand-crafted glass with the imperfect perfection of ripples and bubbles protect the pale blond wood counter from errant droplets of hot oil.

This is not the best tempura in Tokyo, but the lunch course at 4000-yen is quite good and filling. The matron, with her upswept hairdo, kimono, and white apron, will make sure you get plenty of freshly grated daikon, refills of rice and house-made pickles.

Sitting at the counter and watching the master, who is probably as old as the building, slowly batter each shrimp or vegetable, then drop it into the redolent oil, is a ticket back to the Taisho era.

The master’s hands and grip are not what they used to be, and if he drops from his chopsticks a battered shrimp or two on its way to the hot oil, it’s no big thing. He’ll just pick it with his fingers and put it where it belongs.

There really isn’t a menu. If you come at lunch, you’ll be served the standard 4000-yen course. No need to order. With a word, though, you can upgrade to the 5000-yen or 6000-yen course.

Dinner courses start from 7000 yen. The restaurant offers a lovely private hanare room which can be reserved for an extra 10,000 yen if you want to impress a politician or two.

The shop meishi doesn’t announce opening or closing times. They figure anyone in Kyobashi knows when lunch or dinner time is. They are probably closed on Sundays when the bustle and business of Kyobashi pauses.

It is easy to find Tenshichi. Take the number 4 exit of the Ginza-line Kyobashi station. Walk a few meters until you spot the Bless Coffeeshop. Turn left down the narrow side street and you’ll see Tenshichi squatting low in a shadow.

Tenshichi: 2-5-17 Kyobashi, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03.3561.7577.

Tempura at Iseya in Minowa

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Doteno Iseya has been serving tempura from this lovely building for nearly ninety years. The venerable old structure is located just across the street from the entrance to the long-faded Yoshiwara district. And many a customer, before or after a night of physical pleasure in that famous red light district, sought gustatory pleasure in a bowl of tendon—a hot mound of flavorful tempura prawns, conger eel, squid, and green peppers crowning a bowl of moist glistening rice.

The tempura is Edo-style: darkly crisp and fragrant from the sesame oil it’s been fried in.

The interior has been meticulously maintained with etched glass panels depicting jumping shrimp, shoji screen panels, opaque glass lampshades, and an ancient grandfather clock ticking against the wall. The low dark wood tables have been polished smooth by countless elbows.

Tendon comes in three sizes: イ、ロ, and  ハ. The first one is 1400 yen and is basically a couple of prawns on a bed of rice. The middle choice, 1900 yen, includes some vegetables, and the last one, 2400 yen and pictured above, is a veritable mountain of tempura goodness. Make sure to order a bowl of nameko mushroom miso soup, 200 yen, to accompany the tendon.

Doteno Iseya is Tokyo as it likes to remember itself. Get there early or late to avoid the queue.

1-9-2 Nihonzutsumi. Taito Ward.

Tel: 03-3872-4886.

Monday to Friday: Lunch 11:30am to 2pm. Dinner: 5pm to 8pm.

Closed Wednesdays.

Nearest subway station: Minowa Exit 3. Hibiya Line.