After reading the recent review by Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold of Tempura Endo's Beverly Hills restaurant I thought it was high time I went to the original. Tempura Endo Yasaka in Kyoto is housed in an ornate wooden teahouse south of Gion; waiting staff in delicate light blue kimonos wait outside for guests at their appointed time of arrival. If it all feels a little elite, it's probably because more than a few of the elite have dined at Endo during its 100-plus years of frying food.

The main dining area seats around 16 people. The best seats in the house are those nearest the fryer, which is covered with a beautiful copper hood. Unlike Endo's California outpost, there was no Kenny G playing on repeat. Instead, the sound of happy chatter filled the air, which is rather unusual at high-end restaurants in Japan.

Endo's take on tempura is tied to kaiseki ryōri (traditional multicourse cuisine): the meal moves through a series of carefully considered courses, with a focus on seasonal ingredients.