Fry-class food at salaryman prices in Nishi-Azabu
Tempura Buono exudes exclusivity from its Kyoto-style wooden exterior, curved bamboo slats, paper lantern, and noren curtain over the shoji door. Inside, however, the small restaurant is casual and welcoming. It ought to be: with only three small tables and a clean wood counter, you’ll get to know your neighbors—and what to order— rather quickly.
First, we cooled off with Kirin Ichiban Shibori draft (¥600). We went with the chef’s recommendations from the large menu—after all, he does have 37 years’ experience in upscale tempura restaurants across town. After some okayu (rice in hot water) to coat the stomach (the antidote to tempura grease) our otoshi of sesame tofu appeared, then a large tossed Buono salad (¥650).
The chef suggested shochu so we ordered a round of mugi (wheat) and imo (sweet potato) on the rocks to accompany the hirame (flounder) and ika (squid) sashimi. The sashimi, dressed with ginger and shiso, was fresh and flavorful, not the rubbery thawed kind, and its simplicity paired well with the shochu. The imo (¥550-750) was floral and earthy, while the mugi (¥650-700) was fragrant and delicate with a corn-still moonshine taste. Neither overpowered the light taste of the sashimi or the dishes to come.
Two fried shrimps were on the menu, the maki ebi (¥250) and the oebi (¥500). The maki was served with three kinds of salt (green matcha salt, salt with pepper, and salt with spice), and then came the “Oh!” ebi—long, thick tiger prawns fried in a fritter-like batter. They disappeared quickly along with the lightly battered asparagus and piman (green pepper) dipped in sea salt or tetsuyu sauce. The gooey fried mozzarella was also a welcome surprise.
The in-season ayu (sweet fish) came with a sauce a little too syrupy after the previous simplicity. We asked their recommendation on some reishu (cold sake) and were pleased with the dry, delicate Hakkaisan honjozo from Niigata and the Uragasumi tokubetsu junmaishu from Miyagi (both ¥750).
The chef offered us the kakiage donbuari lunch set (¥800) to try. The huge deep-fried veg, crisp and hot, were practically meals in themselves. More than surfeited, we slurped down some ochazuki (green tea and rice with salmon) and enjoyed cold cantaloupe to round out the set.
Tempura Buono isn’t slow food, but don’t rush. This is real-style tempura at bargain prices. Ask for the chef’s recommendation, or the tempura course (¥3,500), and you’ll be battering yourself up for a delicious meal.
Tempura Bueno: 4-10-3 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku, 03-5468-5070, Open Mon-Sat 11:30am-2:30pm, 5:30-11:30pm (L.O. 10pm), www.smoke-stone.com/nishiazabu