Dinner at Tempura Niitome (天風良 にい留)
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Tempura Niitome is as of the time of writing this the number 1 restaurant in Japan on Tabelog with an impressive rating of 4.80 (this a very dynamic list so it might not last long). I doubt that a tempura restaurant ever reached that position since the inception of Tabelog.
And there is a good reason for this. For starters Chef Niitome’s otsumani is fantastic. His kue sashimi can stand up to any high end Kaiseki restaurant. The ankimo (monk fish liver) melts in your mouth and leaves a faint trace of honey on the palate. Cold soba noodles are served with an uni sauce from Hokkaido, but the Ikaro chawanmushi tops it all. The Ikura has the right level of saltiness and the egg custard contains enough residual liquidity so you can easily mix it all up, close your eyes, slurp and enjoy it. Haven on earth.
Once he gets going with the tempura the astonishment just increases with each of the 20 servings. There is very little Chef Niitome cannot convert into a tempura. And whatever he takes out his frying pot is perfectly cooked. The batter is thin and airy but tastes slightly oily, something which you want when going to a tempura restaurant. The core is soft (fish) or crunchy (vegetables) to bring out the best in each piece. He switches on and off the heat to create the prefect temperature for the respective food. And he does this all while entertaining his guest with stories and information about the food they are eating. I could now go on and one with lengthy descriptions about each servings but I just wanted to point out one as an example. As we are in the snow crab season I have had now almost every night during the last six weeks one form of snow crab. But never in my wildest dreams did I think I would get a kobako-kani (female snow crab) tempura. Chef Niitome prepares the flavour box (English translation of kobako) in the same way everybody does, but then puts the whole thing into his batter, made out of egg, water and frozen flower, before throwing it into the boiling oil. How he knows when to take it out, so the whole content is perfectly cooked is beyond me, but it highlights his skills. This is my third meal there in the last 11 months and it was the best one. A stunning observation as conditioned by the previous meals I came with sky high expeditions.
PS: Chef Niitome revealed to us that he never releases all seats when opening up a booking period. He then opens them up almost randomly for people who call. So don’t give up hope, just call and hope to be lucky.