Object of Desire: Kakiage, the Bloomin’ Onion of the tempura world
Perhaps you are in Little Tokyo, as one often is, and you are in the mood for noodles, and you fear that you may perish from hunger, pure hunger, if you are forced to endure the wait at either Daikokuya or Shin-Sen-Gumi. So you settle in at Marugame Monzo, where the line is only half as long, and you console yourself with what is probably the best udon in Los Angeles.
Really, even if you’d never heard of udon, you could probably guess that this was the place to get it because 1) literally everybody else in the restaurant has a bowl of it on his or her table, and 2) in the back of the restaurant, clearly visible in an enclosed glass booth, a highly trained man is whomping away at huge gobs of dough with what looks like an industrial paper cutter.
You get your bowl of noodles. I like the cold bukkake udon with plum paste and shiso, but you may be more of a broth person who has opted to order the udon with duck. You get your glass of beer. And you at least consider getting a side of tempura, which is pretty good here, because the combination of fried foods and noodles is a thing. There are a lot of tempura options here — crispy shiso leaf, fried red ginger, the kind of fried half-boiled egg you may know from ramen shops, and fried sheets of nori seaweed, crisp-on-crisp.
I am here to tell you that the pro move in this situation is to order the kakiage, a crunchy, batter-fried cylinder constructed from shreds of onion and sweet potato, about the size of a family size can of beans.
Kakiage is the Bloomin’ Onion of the tempura world, which is to say it has about 10,000 calories per bite, and can sap your will to live.
If you poke around it for a while, you will discover fried shrimp in there somewhere, and tiny scallops, and maybe some shreds of squid -- who knows? You could hide half of a sea eel inside the thing, and it wouldn’t be discovered until you were into your third iced green tea. It could serve as the plinth to a Corinthian column. You could use it as a deep-fried iPhone cozy. It is kakiage. It contains multitudes. It is lunch.
329 E. First St., Little Tokyo, (213) 346-9762.
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