Tempura Has Never Tasted So GoodCover Story Features
January 29, 2017
Story By: Ali Resich | Photos by: Lawrence Tabudlo
When seated at one of the countertops at Tempura Ichidai, which wraps around lively tempura-frying stations positioned right in front of you, you can hear the ultra-hot sizzle of the oil, erupting with bubbles as just-battered pieces of tempura are transformed into crispy morsels of joy.
Then, all that’s left to do is devour them. “Tempura Ichidai has a very unique concept. It is the only tempura bar in Hawaii where you can get made-to-order, fresh tempura,” says chef Susumu Mizui.
Although the traditional restaurant isn’t reinventing the wheel when it comes to its light, flaky tempura — the classic batter recipe is mixed with cold water, just as in countless Japanese restaurants — what sets Tempura Ichidai apart is the freshness of the ingredients and immediacy with which patrons can enjoy their golden-fried vegetables and proteins. That freshness and prompt service are displayed through the chefs’ expertise in pulling out the tempura from its fry bath at just the right moment — a skill Mizui says can only be learned through experience — as well as the fact that each tempura order is presented to customers piece by piece throughout the meal, rather than all at once, so diners can savor each bite at its peak crispness.
The Ala Moana Center restaurant has been met with rave reviews since opening a year ago on the third floor of the mall’s expanded Ewa Wing. Over the course of its first year, Tempura Ichidai has gradually added a range of other traditional Japanese dining options to its menu of authentic tempura. “You can also get sushi, sashimi, appetizers, nabe (hot pot) and udon. We also have vegetable tempura for our vegetarian customers. The pricing is very reasonable for authentic Japanese cuisine,” explains Mizui.
To taste just how light yet crunchy freshly fried tempura can be, order the No. 1 seller, Ichidai Teishoku ($19). You’ll bite into a plethora of freshly fried delights, including eggplant, heart of palm, pumpkin, locally grown kale and hearty pieces of shrimp, kisu (Japanese whiting fish) and chicken tempura. True to teishoku form, the set meal also comes with miso soup, rice, tsukemono and two small appetizers.
Tempura Ichidai’s menu has plenty in store for seafood-lovers, starting with lobster tempura, which goes by its Japanese name of “Omar” Shrimp ($28) on the menu. Aside from tempura, patrons can sample ocean-inspired bites with Spicy Tuna Roll ($9), Assorted Sashimi ($18) — tuna, salmon and hamachi — or Three Nigiri Sushi ($8) prepared with the fresh fish combo of your choice (tuna, salmon and hamachi).
Signature to Tempura Ichidai’s offerings are its four seasonal menus introduced throughout the year. From now through Feb. 28, warm up with the winter menu’s ($35) Sukiyaki Nabe featuring top-rated USDA Prime beef along with tofu, vegetables and more. The winter menu also includes crisp pieces of assorted tempura to go with sashimi, savory Chawanmushi custard and all the classic sides. In addition to the seasonal menus, the restaurant presents tasty holiday menus, the next of which will be for Valentine’s Day (see sidebar).
LOVE IS IN THE ‘FARE’
If you have yet to make a reservation for Valentine’s Day, don’t fret. No reservations are needed at Tempura Ichidai, where you can treat your loved one to a special menu ($40 per person; Feb. 14 only) filled with heart-shaped potato tempura and much more.
It will be love at first bite when you try the holiday set’s vegetable, kisu and shrimp tempura, ahi sashimi, temari-style sushi with flavorful combinations like uni and tobiko, and special Foie Gras Chawanmushi custard. There also will be wagyu beef carpaccio, unagi nyumen (somen noodles) and strawberry and pineapple juice on the side.
And for the grand finale of this romantic dining experience, dessert offers brownie, banana and strawberry tempura varieties, all ready to be dipped into chocolate sauce.
Ala Moana Center Level 3, Ewa Wing
1450 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu
Daily, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; last seating 9:30 p.m.