Tempura lovers you’re going to fall in love with me because today I hit upon the mother lode of food trucks specializing in authentic and yet unconventional Japanese tempura. For those not familiar, Tempura is a style of Japanese cooking typically found in most Sushi restaurants.
The best way to illustrate tempura is to briefly describe the batter preparation. In a nut shell a batter is made with cold water (sometimes sparkling water is used to keep the batter light) and soft wheat flour.
Other types of flour maybe substituted for the wheat flour, either cake, pastry or all-purpose flour in addition to eggs, baking soda or baking powder, corn starch and oil. The tempura batter is traditionally mixed in small batches using chopsticks for only a few seconds, leaving lumps in the mixture that, along with the cold batter temperature, result in the unique fluffy and crisp tempura structure when fried.
This attention to detail creates a extremely crunchy and airy crust resembling a “shell type” casing for the ingredients contained ~ usually meat, fish or vegetables.
Four Star Chef, Creates A Four Star Experience
OG Tempura is the creation of professional chef and culinary instructor Jae Cho, Cho made a name for himself in the restaurant business by holding several notable positions in four-star hotels including executive pastry chef at a Michelin Star restaurant in New York City.
In addition he’s demonstrated his extensive culinary expertise on a prime time cooking reality show broadcasted on Fox television. As a matter of fact prior to launching OG Tempura he operated his own bakery and café in Southern California.
On the day of this review I was experiencing a strong craving for asian cuisine so when I happened upon OG Tempura and perused the menu I knew I had to give the truck a try and I’m so glad I did.
Being a lover of most types of shell fish once I spotted the Shrimp Tempura Lettuce Wraps I couldn’t resist. The wraps are constructed using green butter leaf lettuce that’s been topped with a fresh sesame infused cabbage slaw and creamy slices of avocado, next elongated pieces of golden tempura shrimp is placed on top of the slaw.
Finally each wrap is finished with a drizzle of a sweet and spicy sauce made from teriyaki sauce and siracha.
Sriracha is made from sun ripen chilies which are ground into a smooth paste along with garlic, the sauce is used in many forms of Asian cooking and is a common condiment used in most restaurants and homes.
A Total Hit All Around
The shrimp was cooked perfectly, sweet and light and not rubbery. The tempura crust was light and golden and not overtly greasy. A huge advantage plus considering were talking about deep fried food.
An order comes with three generous pieces and for only $7 it’s a steal in my opinion.
Ok so how you eat these little gems is quite simple (albeit a little messy), but hey, that’s the fun part right? You pick up each lettuce leave containing the tempura shrimp and sesame slaw then fold the ends of the lettuce leaf over enclosing the contents like a wrapper and dive in.
I’ll tell you that I enjoyed these most of all.
Eating the Shrimp Lettuce wraps touched all of my flavor and texture senses.
From the crunch of the tempura and the sesame slaw to the smoothness of the lettuce container and finally the spicy sweetness of the sauce this dish has it all. Spicy, sweet, smooth and crunchy literally all rolled into one glorious bite. One of the favorites of this review bar none.
Next up: Let Them Eat Steak!
You’re not going to believe what I’m about to describe so read carefully.
Okay, so imagine this. Four pieces of flank steak is soaked in a marinade made with Sake, Miso and parsley. After being removed from it’s bath each piece is wrapped in smoked bacon then dipped in a light tempura batter. Finally each batter coated piece is quickly deep fried until crisp and golden brown.
But wait . . . it’s not over, OG Tempura serves the tempura with a side of horseradish-blue cheese dipping sauce!
Crazy! You bet, it’s crazy good.
The steak tempura is a complex combination of flavors that work so well together.
The flank steak completely absorbs the flavors of the Japanese Sake and Miso (Sake is a rice-based alcoholic beverage and Miso is a paste made from fermented soybeans and barley or rice malt, both are used in Japanese cooking.) but OGT gives the marinade a surprising and unexpected twist by adding some fresh parsley and it’s that fresh parsley that gives the beef a faint green hue that’s clearly noticeable when you bite into it.
Now if all of that wasn’t enough to intrigue you, don’t forget you have the pungent flavor of the horseradish infused blue cheese dipping sauce that adds yet another layer of complexity but it all works surprising well.
I truly loved this dish, and after one bite I was totally hooked. The meat was tender and as you’d might expect from the above described marinade, beyond flavorful. Of course the tempura crust was light and airy but it was the creamy dipping sauce that accompanied the steak strips that landed the culinary plane for me so to speak.
I’d highly suggest that you put this dish high on your list of must try items on your next Los Angeles food truck tour.
A Spiders Web That You Won’t Mind Getting Tangled In
For my final savory selection I opted for the spider rolls. Don’t panic, they don’t use actual spiders, the term describes the appearance of the rolls after their cooked. Chef Jae Cho takes pieces of soft shell crab, yes, he serves it including the actual shell (don’t worry its completely edible) then wraps the crab in bacon and cooked angel hair pasta.
Angel Hair pasta is extremely thin and because of it’s delicate quality it looks like the legs of a spider when it comes into contact with the hot oil during the cooking process.
After the crab balls are wrapped in the pasta they are dipped in the tempura batter then deep fried until golden brown. An order includes two generous pieces and comes served with a pesto aioli (garlic-mayo) dipping sauce.
I must admit that I have mixed feelings about this dish. On paper the combination sounded wonderful which is why I ordered. I love soft shell crab but I found the flavor of the crab to be quite strong, so strong in fact that I had review the menu once more to get clarity on the other ingredients. For example, I couldn’t detect the bacon although it was visible.
In addition I found the crust (and I realize what I’m about to say here will sound strange but,) too heavy, as a matter of fact, the rolls were a bit difficult to eat.
The balls couldn’t fit into the dipping sauce container unless you broke them apart and that was hard to do because it was so much crust. I also felt the crust overwhelmed the fillings.
And while I’m on the topic of the dipping sauce I wasn’t particularly fond of it either. For some reason the basil based pesto didn’t compliment the crab as much as I would have hoped, for this dish I would have preferred a simpler garlic dipping sauce perhaps even mixed with some Sriracha.
Finally both the steak tempura and the spider rolls are served on a bed of crispy snow white rice noodles.
I’m sorry to say that the Spider Rolls were my least favorite of all of today’s selections. But I believe that if the flavor of the crab were milder and the size of the finished product a little easier to manage I could have easily given this dish at least four stars if not if an equal five stars if the sauce was re-worked as well. But today it only rates a 2.5 in my review.
A Sweet Ending: Ice Cream You Can Eat With Your Hands
I always try to cover something sweet for you in every review and today was no exception.
Many times I forgo dessert because I simply can’t physically accommodate it, and you would assume after sampling the wide variety of tempura I tried today that I wouldn’t have room for dessert and at first thought you’d be correct. Of course that was before I discovered OG Tempura’s Mochi (rice cake) ice cream balls on the menu and so I made an exception.
Now let me clarify that Mochi isn’t some fancy way to describe mocha. No, mochi (pronounced Mo-Chi) is Japanese for rice cake and in the case of OG Tempura uses the corresponding ice cream flavor as the base to create the flavor infused rice cake dough. Next the pillowy pastel colored dough is wrapped around each petite size scoop of ice cream.
In this instance – vanilla, mango and strawberry ~ finally each ball is flash frozen giving the appearance of being dusted with powdered sugar or snowy white ice crystals.
An order comprises three ice cream balls (one of each flavor) and is topped with a dollop of whipped cream.
I found the dessert playful, light and quite refreshing and a welcome respite from additional fried foods. This is not to say that they don’t offer them, on the contrary you can get apple fritters (Granny smith apple fried in tempura batter tossed in cinnamon sugar, served with caramel sauce) and Malasadas i.e. Portuguese donuts.
Additional Menu Options:
While I didn’t sample the following items I can say that OG Tempura makes every effort to offer a little something for every one. For example, you can substitute Tofu for the shrimp on the lettuce wraps I described at the start of this review.
They also some other meat options like turkey breast, fish and chips and Teriyaki chicken for example. In addition you can order most dishes with rice and a variety of seasonal vegetables. There’s even a low carb option available if looking to lighten up a little bit. Visit the website to see the current menu.
My Overall Impression:
I found the service to be excellent, as a matter of fact, this is something I really must emphasize for all food truck operators reading this section. One of the things I look for, not only as a reviewer, but as a customer is engagement with the operator. I greatly appreciate it and it’s never underestimated because I believe it enhances the overall dining experience. I love it when the staff takes the opportunity to describe menu items, make suggestions and encourage future visits. OC Tempura gets an ‘A+’ in this area.
Quality of the food was quite impressive, I throughly enjoyed everything with the exception of the Spider rolls and for this I subtracted a point. I believe if this dish was re-tooled a bit it could be a winner.
The prices are great for the portions you receive. $23 dollars bought all of the items I reviewed today and I received quite a bit of food, with that said two people can easily walk away spending about $14 dollars per person on average.
Menu Selection 5
Great menu selection, covers just about everything from vegetarian, to a variety of meats, to a low carb version and as I mentioned in the review a nice variety of desserts. I especially appreciated the light dessert choice I made today. For that I gladly give them a five.
Without question a five, from the creative marinades to the wide variety of dipping sauces to the rice cake covered ice cream balls, chef Jae Cho has really pulled out all the stops to create a experience at a price that’s totally accessible to practically everyone. Writing this review has certainly educated me on the art form of Japanese Tempura.
To be quite frank, I never actually thought much about tempura making before doing this review so it goes without saying that like most Japanese art forms high quality tempura it’s a delicate balance between art and science requiring skill, technique, ingenuity and of course ~ passion.
OGTempura offers all of that in spades.
Overall Score: 4.8