Friday, July 3, 2009

Thousand Cranes - tempura bar - restaurant review

We had discovered the Thousand Cranes restaurant in Japantown in 2007, when we were staying locally at the New Otani for a convention, and boy what a discovery it was. We went back once a few months after that but haven't had a chance to go back since until a couple of weeks ago.

We had heard a while ago that the New Otani had been sold, which made us wonder if anything was going to happen to the restaurant and staff. When we drove up, we noticed that the hotel was now called the Kyoto Grand.

We went to the third floor and inquired at the reception stand. Since it was a Saturday night, we thought the tempura bar might be really busy, in which case we'd "settle" for the sushi bar, which we had been meaning to try and hadn't had a chance to either. They took us back to where the tempura and sushi bars were, and we were surprised that the tempura bar was empty. I was also sad to note that it was a different tempura chef - we had very much enjoyed the one we'd had previously.

But, all the surprises and disappointments and concerns about the changes were soon swept away. This tempura chef, Hiroyuki Shiono, had been there since shortly after the ownership change, and we really liked him too. He also struggled with his English, but I'm beginning to realize that usually means they're awesome cooks and really nice as well. We again ended up being the only party at the bar during our stay, so we again had his full attention. (The second time we'd gone, it was a full house, and we got two seats at the far end of the bar, and the tempura chef was so busy that we barely talked to him, pretty much just saying "hi" and "thank you" when he'd give us goodies to eat.) We had a chance to talk to Hiro for a bit, so we found out how long he'd been at the restaurant, and what he'd done before coming there. He was very forthcoming, and it was fun to learn about him. We talked about the food and other things during the course of dinner as well, and sometimes, the language issue was a struggle, but with both sides trying, we managed to communicate just fine.

He was also helpful with giving advice about techniques and etiquette with tempura. It had been so long since I'd been there, I forgot much of what I'd learned last time! In addition to the regular sea salt, he also gave us a green tea sea salt mixture that he'd made, which was really good. He also taught me that for tempura, you either dip it in the sauce, or you put lemon juice and sea salt on it - not both.

They've made another change in that there's no longer a menu that you order from - it's all just a one-price set menu. Before he started cooking anything, he did put together what he was going to be feeding us, and he went through everything and asked if there was anything we didn't like so he could have changed it. If we'd asked for something in particular, he probably could have accommodated that as well.

The meal started with a sashimi appetizer, which was really yummy. I tell you, we have *GOT* to go back and actually try their sushi bar.

Some of the things he cooked, he just put on our plate, but other things, he had other presentations for them.

Orange roughy tempura with salad and ponzu sauce.

Salmon. I loved all the different cute little plates he used too.

The rice and miso soup were brought about half-way through the meal.

We had a lot of the same things we had on previous visits, like the squid and crab claw and shrimp and asparagus and lotus root and sweet potato, and the top of the chrysanthemum. We didn't have the oyster this time, which I actually quite liked, so I'll have to remember to ask for that next time.

Chrysanthemum, shrimp and crab claw.

For dessert, he gave us white bean paste with some kind of fruit, I think, in the middle. The husband thought it was mango, but I wasn't convinced, but otherwise, I have no idea what it was. It was all cute and tasty though.

The service was a bit slow even though we were the only ones there because they were busy elsewhere in the restaurant. A few times that we needed our server, the chef had to get her attention for us, and he seemed a little annoyed that it was so hard to get them to help us. But she was very nice when she would rush in to see what we needed and then rush back out to get it for us, so we didn't mind too much. The set-up also makes it a bit difficult to get the server's attention because the tempura bar is situated so that the diners are facing the chef and pretty much staring at the back wall, whereas the chef is facing out into the restaurant. So to get a server's attention, you have to keep turning around and look to see if they're in the room, whereas the chef can just see all the time.

As I mentioned, it's all a set menu now, so they never bring you any kind of menu to peruse, but that also means there's no price anywhere. The set menu is $65 per person and includes the tempura bar items, green tea, rice, miso soup and dessert. It's not exactly an inexpensive dinner, but you definitely get full value for your meal. And one thing you should remember - GO HUNGRY. There's a lot of food, and you're going to want to enjoy it all.

Thousand Cranes
Japanese Cuisine, Sushi & Tempura Bar
Kyoto Grand Hotel & Gardens, 3rd floor
120 South Los Angeles Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

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