[FoRK] The *other* tempura place (palace?) in LA

Rohit Khare khare
Tue Sep 20 00:09:00 PDT 2005

I still need to try this place out; the chef at Senbazuru ("A  
Thousand Cranes", the New Otani) has mentioned it before...
Inaba is located along Hawthorne Blvd., going south to 405, in the  
market plaza to your right. The restaurant is always full, both for  
lunch and for dinner, and there is a line even after 12:30 for  
lunch.  Its specialties are soba, sushi, and tempura. Especially  
tempura, deep-fried in small size, quickens your appetite with its  
look and fragrant smell.  We often come across ?chef?s choice? for  
nigiri, but here, in this restaurant, there is ?chef?s choice? for  
tempura, which is truly good.  Soba is also served with flour freshly  
ground in the morning.  There is also the elegant and traditional  
kaiseki cooking, a formal Japanese dinner.

  A Door To Japan
  (from Los Angeles Times on March 27, 2002)

   The minute I cross the threshold at I-naba, I'm overcome by d?j?  
vu. In a Torrance mini-mall, I feel as if I've walked into a  
restaurant in a small Japanese town. It's a stylish place of dainty  
flower arrangements, slanted mirrors and mustard-yellow tablecloths.  
Delicate bamboo shades shield the windows. All you hear is hushed  
conversation and faint music?at least when the sizzling deep fryer  
momentarily falls silent.

    This spare dining room is not the only place to eat here, though.  
Hidden by curtains is a private tempura bar for customers who advance- 
order lavish yorokobi-an dinners. Slightly worn blue curtains hang  
above the main kitchen, but not so low as to hide what the chefs are  
doing. Mostly, they are frying. I-naba serves a wide range of hot and  
cold Japanese dishes as well as the obligatory sashimi first course  
for those with more to spend. But crisp, clean-tasting tempura is the  
main event here. It comes in elegant, complex set menus; you're  
supposed to work your way into tempura gradually (rarely, if ever,  
will you see a Japanese diner plunging directly into a fried food  

     Tempura gozen ($30) starts with perfectly cut sashimi of tuna,  
yellowtail, white fish, geoduck and octopus, followed by a green  
salad tossed with a ginger vinaigrette. You also get a bowl of miso  
soup and a dish of chawan-mushi (a custard stocked with ginkgo nuts,  
shiitake, shrimp and fish). Then, and only then, comes some of the  
best tempura anywhere outside Japan. First, three long shrimp, tails  
pointing skyward, flanked by two pieces of boned sole. These are  
followed by a plate of batter-fried green beans, eggplant, onion,  
pumpkin and a hot pepper stuffed with a little ground beef. On the  
side, there is a dipping sauce laced with grated white radish.  
Steamed short-grain Japanese rice is served in a covered bowl. There  
are also salty homemade pickles (tsukemono) cured in rice wine with  
rock salt and basil. Expect to find tiny slices of cucumber, yellow  
radish and, if you're lucky, purple basil.

      There are options. Shrimp tempura gozen ($22) gets you some of  
the sashimi, no custard and fewer pieces of tempura. An assorted  
tempura course ($40), the largest of the tempura set menus, adds a  
second wave of tempura, cold soba noodles and an unexpected dessert,  
such as New York cheesecake. Still, tempura isn't all I-naba serves.  
One entire page of the menu is devoted to fried buckwheat noodles  
(soba) with toppings, cold with dipping sauce or hot in dashi, the  
familiar Japanese broth of dried bonito. There are bento dinner  
boxes, pressed sushi dinners and a variety of wonderful appetizers, a  
few of which have surprising touches. I-naba is proud that it makes  
its soba by hand. My favorite way to eat it here is ten-seiro  
($9.50), for which the noodles are served cold on a wickerwork bamboo  
plate alongside a bowl of hot broth crowned with kaki-age, a deep- 
fried patty of chopped seafood and vegetables in tempura batter.

      The appetizer menu deserves notice. Washu-gyu is a clone of the  
incomparably tender Kobe beef raised in Oregon. It's cut into bite- 
sized chunks, broiled and served with dipping sauce. Oddly, it comes  
with a big scoop of American tuna salad, made with plenty of mayo.  
Perhaps the chef is attempting a Japanese take on vitello tonnato.  
Another appetizer is saikyoyaki, miso-marinated sea bass broiled in  
the oven. This is one of the best fish ideas anywhere, buttery and  
sweet with notes of caramel and smoke in every bite. If you feel  
adventurous, call a day in advance and order one of those yorokobi-an  
dinners (basically, Japanese tea ceremony food plus tempura dishes),  
which range in price from $40 to $70. As in any Japanese restaurant  
that serves tea ceremony food, it's impossible to predict what  
ingredients will appear in the meal, only that you can expect  
everything to be extremely fresh. And that tempura, in all its deep  
fried glory, will be the featured player in your dinner.

--MAX JACOBSON, Special to The Times

Address: 20920 Hawthorne Blvd., Torrance
Telephone: 310-371-6675
Hours: Thu.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-1:45 p.m.; Tue.-Sat., 5:30- 9:45 p.m.;  
Sun., 5-8:45 p.m. Closed Mon.

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