Thursday, July 05, 2012

9 years later, back at Katsukura

There are some foods that are just exceptionally better in their home country.  Burgers in the U.S., tapas in Spain, Mexican food in California (while not the "home country", Hispanics are becoming a real majority - and thereby influencing the state with their cuisine), lechon in the Philippines, xiao long bao in Taiwan and China, and tonkatsu in Japan.  Tonkatsu!  I've been dreaming about this meal since my last trip to Tokyo in 2003.  That's the last time I've had great, or even good, katsu in a restaurant.

Tonkatsu is panko breaded and deep fried pork cutlet.  So many people try to emulate this Japanese dish, but I've only had memorable katsu in Japan, never in the states or here in Manila (although, I gotta admit my dad does a pretty great job of it at home).  In 2003, my family found a tonkatsu restaurant at Takashimaya Times Square in Shibuya area in Tokyo.  This restaurant had a nature-themed atmosphere  with greenery and almost a teahouse feel.  The whole katsu experience was unlike any I've had before that.  It was the first time I grinded roasted sesame seeds for my katsu sauce, and we had unlimited cabbage and rice, too.  The katsu had flaky and crusty bread crumbs that perfectly crunched and melted with the bites of pork.  Despite our limited number of days, I wanted to eat here for both lunch and dinner.  I couldn't get enough.  It's the marker I've placed all these years as my standard of how good tonkatsu should taste.

Nine years forward, and we're back at Takashimaya Times Square.  Back at Katsukura.  Would it be just as good, just as great?  After a long day of flying and a subway commute with more walking than I cared for on a hungry stomach, I was seated in Katsukura.  The restaurant itself has changed - it's more minimalist with all that natural decor gone.  Just dark wood tables, benches, and seats.  It sort of lost some of it's charm.  This chain has expanded over the years and has opted to become a mid-level katsu restaurant.  We went there twice in 2 nights and realized this place has lost its consistency.  The first night was just as delectable as I remember.  I ordered the special cut of pork which was flaky, crunchy around that buttery pork.  Plus, I had another favorite - crab croquette.  So creamy with real crab meat inside a crunchy batter.  The second night, I ordered the regular cut of pork, as did others at my table.  Some were great, but some had gristle and excess fat.  The quality in choosing pork cutlets lacked.  Although, the crab croquette was just as excellent.  Consistency is so important, especially to keep repeat customers.  After this night, we realized that while the katsu was still better than those we've had in Manila or in the states, we needed to go around Tokyo to find more katsu places instead.

The downside of this realization: the place I fondly remembered to have to best katsu doesn't really have the best katsu anymore.  The upside of all this - we got to go around Tokyo eating more katsu!

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slide show here, check out my Flickr album: Katsukura

No comments: