The Mystery of Tokyo Kai Kan
In the days of long ago, when I was a fashionable long-haired hippie we used to dawn our best tie-dyes, nehru-jackets and love-beads, pile into someones VW bus and go to the tempura bar at Tokyo Kai Kan in 1st St. in Little Tokyo. As I recall, there was no menu for the tempura bar. You sat on your barstool and ate whatever the chef cooked up. You ate and kept eating until you had to ask him to stop. It always puzzled me how the food was so luscious and not greasy! I often wonder what ever happened to that place. And where does anyone go now-a-days for a really great tempura bar? Or do they just not do them anymore
The Japanese word for skewered and fried foods is kushi age (awkward translation="skewered fries"). A fried course will be part of an izakaya's menu, along with grilled, stewed, pickled, and raw offerings. However, not all izakaya fry stuff expertly. I googled "kushi age los angeles" and came up with an LA Times listing of various izakaya.
Sometimes, a shop specializes only in fried items (rare outside Japan) where it's strictly omakase, and things come out in sets of 5 items or so, and you indicate to the chef when you're full, or the next set comes out. Sounds like the late Tokyo Kai Kan was that sort of place.
Just an asphalt parking lot now, but plenty of good eating memories. I remember going to the tempura bar several times 30 years ago. I didn't know any better, but now I realize maybe it was the only tempura bar around. I remember they served you 12 huge tempura shrimp throughout the meal. There was also a teppan bar and sushi bar. Later on in life I used to go there to drink and meet my buddies--just like Cheers..."where everybody knows your name." I still see Ichi the bartender with the crew cut and glasses tending bar in Little Tokyo on 1st Street. Then I met a friend recently who's mom used to work there as a waitress which surprised me.
Few years before they closed TK's their restaurant group opened a place called Kitiyama in Newport Beach which still exists. I've never been there, but maybe some of the food is similar.
Through some internet surfing-they claim to have invented the "California Roll" at Tokyo Kaikan. So everytime you eat a California Roll you can thank Tokyo Kaikan(see link).