February 25, 2013

Batter up

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I'm in Macau for a conference and staying overnight.  While the free food provided by the organizers at the Westin Resort Macau seemed fairly decent, I chose to be anti-social and went out on my own.  I'm not in Macau a lot these days, and there was definitely an itch I'd been wanting to scratch for the last few years… even if I had to do it on my own.

Tenmasa (天政) has been on my list of places to go in Macau ever since it opened.  Outside of Japan, there are no shortages of sushi (すし), ramen (ラーメン), teppanyaki (鉄板焼き) or even tonkatsu (とんかつ) specialists, but it is incredibly difficult to find a half-decent tempura (天ぷら) restaurant.  When I heard that the specialist from Tokyo had opened a branch it Macau, it immediately piqued my interest.  Unfortunately I never found the occasion to come here, but that changed tonight.

I arrived at the near-empty restaurant, and eventually seated myself at the tempura counter.  For a supposed tempura specialist, it was curious that the place featured a sushi counter in addition to regular tables.  The menu was also strange.  Most of the set dinner featured tempura as just a small part of the meal, with sushi and wagyu filling up space.  The only set dinner where tempura took center stage was actually the cheapest… and this left me scratching my head.  I decided to take this set, but added a number of à la carte items.

The meal started with a trio of appetizers:
Walnut tofu - this was OK.  The flavors were a little on the light side, and the texture of the tofu was a little too gelatinous… and was difficult to break up with chopsticks.  I almost had to pick up the whole piece to try to take a bite.

Spinach with sesame sauce - this was not bad.

Marinated salmon (鮭南蛮漬け) - this was OK.

The onslaught of tempura begins…

Prawn (海老) - had two of these in a row.  Dabbing some sea salt brought out the sweet flavors of the prawn.

Japanese sillago (鱚)

Bamboo shoot (筍) - don't think I've ever had this as a tempura.  I could definitely taste the sweetness.

Ice fish (白魚) - ordered this as an extra item.  Always loved these.

Turnip (蕪菁) - never had this as a tempura before, either…

Ginkgo nuts (銀杏) - I could taste more of the sweetness rather than the bitter flavors that sometimes dominate.

Squid (墨イカ) - ordered this myself as I've had great squid at good tempura restaurants..  Scored numerous times, probably trying to make it easier to chew.  The chef tried to cut this into two pieces to make it more manageable, but failed.  The result was that the soft layer of batter came off…  No "WOW" factor here...

Sakura shrimp (桜海老) - very nice.  I've always loved the intense flavors of these tiny shrimps, and the result here was very good.

A good look at one of the heads…

Shishito peppers (獅子唐辛子) - ordered this because I always liked these.

Sweet potato (薩摩芋) - ordered this because it's a "must-eat" at some of the tempura shops.  Not bad, but nothing to write home about.

Snow crab (津和井蟹) - don't remember having had crab leg tempura before, but this was actually not bad!

A closer look at the strands of crab meat fibers…

Eggplant (茄子) - I never quite understood why eggplants are on just about every tempura menu, since it has the propensity to just soak up tons and tons of oil…  Fortunately it wasn't too bad today.

Conger (穴子) - I ordered this because good conger tempura can be divine.  Unfortunately that wasn't the case tonight.  Definitely muddy.  The batter on this was also noticeably heavier, and crunchier compared to the other items.  Disappointed.

Tenbara (天ばら) - I really didn't have any more room left, so I tried to finish about half the bowl… I thought this would come with a piece of deep-fried mixed veggies (かき揚げ) on top, but I guess not…  This is the tempura version of diced sushi rice (ばら散らし), and the pieces of chopped prawns, scallops and fried batter were pretty good.

Yuzu ice cream (柚子アイスクリーム) - actually this was pretty good, with nice little bits of yuzu rind.  Would have preferred a sorbet instead of ice cream though, as it would be more acidic and without cream…

Well… this didn't really "hit the spot"… Maybe I shouldn't have expected it to be at the standard of its Tokyo honten (本店) level, but the gap was pretty big between this and the good tempura places in Tokyo.  Oh well, I scratched my itch, and it's still itching…

I got to chatting with the chef towards the end of the meal, and lamented about the lack of decent tempura places outside of Japan.  I think he help pretty helpless about the fact that the menu here wasn't entirely tempura, as it's difficult for people to accept Japanese restaurants which are specialists outside the aforementioned sushi, ramen or tonkatsu.  Oh well, I'm still searching for a place to get my fix...

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