We arrived at LAX just before the noon hour. The cacophony and immensity of the airport easily dwarf those of Sea-Tac which we left a few hours before, the warm and sunny weather in Southern California being a fair exchange for Seattle’s current spate of rainstorms and relative chill. My wife’s sister and her good friend M picked us up to take us to my father-in-law’s house in the San Gabriel Valley, but not before having lunch.
M suggested ramen at one of the restaurants along West LA’s Sawtelle Blvd. An excellent idea, I thought, because this area has become a mecca of sorts for Japanese food in the last five years or so. Unfortunately, we decided to move on after a quick drive through the area didn’t reveal a single parking spot.
Not too far away, in Mar Vista, is Mitsuwa supermarket. Even here, we just barely found a parking spot on a Saturday that is the grocery shopping day for most people. Inside, throngs of shoppers and diners were flooding the food court that exclusively hosts Japanese restaurants, several of them franchises from Japan. A long line had already built up at Santouka, the chain that has ramenya throughout the Southland and elsewhere, and is on the brink of opening one in the Seattle area. A quick stroll through the area also uncovered a sushi shop (Daikichi) and Sanuki Sando Udon. What caught my eye though was a restaurant that specializes in tendon, not to be confused with connective tissue, but the Japanese word for tempura served atop a bowl of rice, a class of food called donburi.
Hannosuke started in the Nihonbashi district of Tokyo where it gained quite a following. Mitsuwa seems to be playing the role of providing space in food courts for Japanese franchises that want to expand into the American market. Such is the case for all the restaurants in the Mar Vista store. Hannosuke (the full name is Tendon Kaneko Hannosuke) currently only operates stateside at this one location. Its popularity in Japan stems from the secret sauce that is poured over the tempura. Among its offerings here are various combinations of tempura served by itself, on top of rice or with zaru soba (cold buckwheat noodles served on a bamboo tray). There is even a seafood curry. I chose the original tendon, single battered and fried pieces of shrimp and white fish, shishito pepper, a square of nori, an egg that released its still runny yolk, just like in ramen. Even if the menu also advertised kakiage (fried shredded vegetable mixture), my order came instead with a green bean. Sides included a bowl of miso soup, pickled ginger and a minuscule serving of what must be secret sauce pumped up with red chile flakes.
The best tempura is almost greaseless and its batter light and lacy, almost feathery, which takes skill to make. As Hannosuke coats its tempura with a sauce, it makes little sense to go to the trouble of performing magic with the batter. In fact, theirs is more compact, but still light and crunchy. The sauce can loosely be called teriyaki, but that wouldn’t go far enough to explain its complexity, no doubt the reason for its being “secret.” I would call it tasty. It was judiciously applied, too, which helped keep the pieces crispy. The ingredients were all fresh, including the fish. Rather than coating it entirely, the nori was half-dipped in batter and fried, which makes for a nice presentation. Enough sauce dribbled from the tempura pieces to flavor the tops of the perfectly cooked rice underneath. Overall, this was a pretty good donburi (☆☆☆).
Mitsuwa Marketplace Food Court
3760 S. Centinela Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90066