>> Tendon Tempura Carlos Junior | Eat the World Los Angeles

Friday, 2 July 2021

Tendon Tempura Carlos Junior

JAPAN 🇯🇵

COVID-19 UPDATE: The indoor dining room is fully open again. On a most recent visit, the back parking lot dining tent and tables were still set up, but no one was using them at dinner.

Sometimes you visit places because the food is impressive, the best of its kind. Sometimes it is because of the backstory and the feelings it gives you when eating. And then, when the restaurant stars align just right, a place comes along and has a combination of an amazing kitchen and a story that makes the food even better.

This is the case in Torrance at Tendon Tempura Carlos Junior, the passion project of Carlos Pinto, a Peruvian that lived a good chunk of life in Japan and became a master of tempura in Tokyo and later at the branch of tempura specialist Hannosuke here in Southern California. Eventually his talents warranted a restaurant of his own, and in 2019 this restaurant was born in his favorite city Torrance.

A full page of the menu is dedicated to the story and the commitments that Chef Pinto promises to give each customer. These get into the secrets of his trade, and the terrific meal that you are about to experience, from the bowls of complimentary sesame oil-saturated pickled celery and pickled ginger with Japanese burdock (above) all the way to every piece of tempura sat in front of you.

There are pandemic-inspired appetizers and even sushi rolls on the menu now, foods that stand up better to takeout than tempura, but it is those delicately fried goodies that remain the draw. Two ways to enjoy tempura are available during a visit, in the form of a rice bowl topped with it (tempura don, shortened to tendon) or a more traditional plate with dipping sauce. The former comes with a sweet soy sauce-based special tendon sauce already drizzled over everything, but do not worry as this chef's exquisite batter will keep things crispy.

After a few visits, the more traditional tempura plate is preferred and therefore gets more ink. The regular plate ($15.98, above) is a grouping of favorites: Maitake mushroom, two plump and meaty shrimp, eggplant, seaweed, and shishito pepper. Each offers slightly different crisp and taste, an assortment that has a bit of everything. For six dollars more you can upgrade this to the premium set which includes eel and a seafood assortment that replaces some of the vegetables, but those are hard to live without.

Regardless of which of the eight or so options for tempura plates you choose, they will be served with a special savory tentsuyu for dipping that has grated daikon to mix in it. The pieces are all coated with Chef Pinto's perfect egg and flour batter (koromo), each fried just right to make sure you enjoy the crispy texture and the flavors of everything underneath.

The oil used for frying is laced with sesame, giving every bite a pleasant earthiness and enjoyment that might be considered difficult with a complete lack of animal products. With sips of miso soup in between and bites of rice as much as you desire, the tempura plate really is a crowd-pleaser.

In fact, a full article could be written just about the rice here. It is a testament to the chef, the kitchen, and everyone involved that it is always made so well, a shine that smiles back at you between each bite. There is also a partially cooked egg (Carlos calls it over easy but it is closer to poached) that begs to be broken over the rice and mixed in for even more flavor. In most sets it is also lightly battered and fried like the tempura.


For a meaty chaser, try the sukiyaki tempura plate (18.98, above), which adds a bowl of thinly sliced beef with roasted tofu over glass noodles. The assortment of tempura that comes with this is also satisfying with shrimp, excellent slices of pumpkin, shishito pepper, and seaweed.

Since 2019, and thankfully surviving the pandemic, tempura in Greater Los Angeles does not get better than here at Carlos Junior. The line has been drawn.

📍 1510 Cabrillo Avenue, Torrance, South Bay

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