July 29, 2004  (STAR) By Joseph O. Cortes  -  Say tempura, and the first thing that comes to many minds is Japanese food. That’s why when a family of gourmands opened their own Japanese restaurant, offering their kind of Japanese cooking, they didn’t hesitate to call it Tempura Japanese Grill.

Tempura operations/marketing manager Ella Fernandez says the restaurant’s owners, a brood who are all in the food business, personally kitchen-tested all the dishes in the restaurant’s menu of extensive choices. More than two years after the first Tempura opened in Retiro, Quezon City, they are still working on the sauces to some of the popular orders.

"The secret is in the sauces," admits Fernandez. "There are 15 sauces on the menu and they are all mixed personally by the owners. The recipe to each sauce is a guarded secret. Only the owners and their assistants, all food technicians, know them."

One sauce that has proven elusive is Tempura’s teriyaki sauce. It still has to be perfected. Diners will not notice the subtleties in a sauce, but gourmets do. Fernandez says the owners go out on food trips weekly just to try restaurants around Metro Manila. They would even order dishes for takeaway just to compare the sauces with their own. And in many instances, many of the sauces have been adjusted for sweetness.

"Since January this year, we’ve been improving our teriyaki sauce," she says. "Even if we’ve come up with a good sauce, the owners are still looking for the right flavor for our teriyaki sauce. We’ve even changed some of the kitchen equipment with hopes of improving it."

Tempura opened for two reasons: To erase the notion in many diners’ minds that Japanese food is expensive, and to correct the notion that all Japanese food is raw.

Tempura carries a wide array of sushi, sashimi, temaki and makimono – the standard raw items in any Japanese restaurant. It also has a wide selection of appetizers, tofu dishes, soups, salads, curry rice dishes, donburi (rice toppings), tempura, yakiniku (barbecues), teriyaki, raisu (rice dishes), teppanyaki, agemono and furai (deep-fried dishes) and ramen and udon dishes – all definitely not raw.

Indeed, unlike well-placed Japanese restaurants, Tempura manages to keep its prices reasonable. An order of three pieces of prawn tempura is P115, while five pieces, which are good for two diners, go for P175.

Popular Japanese orders are also affordable. A serving of tori teriyaki (chicken teriyaki) goes for P120, while beef teppanyaki is priced at P175 (tenderloin) and P295 (US rib eye).

But pride of place at Tempura, which offers USDA beef, goes to its yakiniku. Diners are seated at special yakiniku tables, which Fernandez says cost six figures, and have a number of built-in features. All tables are smokeless, flameless and have sensors that automatically shut them off in case of an emergency. Ergo, they are all safe for kids.

"In ordinary Japanese restaurants that offer yakiniku, you come out smelling of the food," she says. "All the tables have vacuums that suck the air away from the diner. That’s why there’s no smell of cooked food when you’re done."

But all that goes over our head as we start feasting on the Japanese dishes we were to sample that afternoon. The beef yakiniku goes in an instant, followed by the tempura and a lot more. And this you’ll see, too, when you visit Tempura Japanese Grill.

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Tempura Japanese Grill has branches at: 411-A N. S. Amoranto St. corner D. Tuazon St., Quezon City, with tel. nos. 410-1281 and 784-2421; Unit 6 Thompson Square, 165 Tomas Morato St., Quezon City, with tel. nos. 374-7995 and telefax 374-7460; and Unit 1, One Kennedy Place, Mckinley St., Greenhills, San Juan, with tel. no. 722-5928.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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