Monday, June 15, 2009

Katsugen, Tokyo (かつ玄)

Over the past few years, I've actually come to believe the pseudo-medical concept that your body will 'tell you what to eat'. If I eat nothing but vegetables for a few days, I develop single-minded urges for meat. Despite some obvious meat consumption over the weekend (I remember something about stewed pork belly not 12 inches below this post...), all I could think about this morning was tonkatsu.

To bow to convention for a moment, the recipe for tonkatsu is pretty simple: take a thick slice of pork (filet or roast, at your discretion. Thickness is also at your discretion, but it should be at least half an inch and probably not much more than an inch.) Batter. Crumb. Fry. Add sauce (thick, sweet Worcestershite sauce). Eat. OK?

I thought I'd be able to find a good one of these pretty easily, but I DID want a specialist restaurant (when you get these as the option in a more mixed place, they're often a bit sad). Yet again, Kitchen Street came through (this was because I decided to save the Shin Maru katsu place for a later date) with this specialist, Katsugen, that sits towards the back and near all the other places I've hit recently.

Maybe it's an image thing, but dedicated katsu specialists seem to put a lot of effort into looking clean and modern. The first place I remember really loving for lunch was the late, lamented Katsukura in Hillz. Of course everything in Hillz is now lamented from my point of view, but we all wondered why this place disappeared in the 2-year anniversary Renewal Open. It was attractively dark-wood with some modern appurtenances, a nice semi-private room up the front with flower displays, copper tea pots, individual bowls of sesame seeds for each diner to grate themselves and add to their sauce, 3 kinds of pickles...a real production. I loved it because there were so many things to play with and eat.

Katsugen is a slightly scaled down version of this, but has many of the same elements (maybe there's a Kode of Kondukt for Katsuyas that I'm missing?). And for the missing elements, you get a bit of compensation in the form of a price cut! In order to bring you the most complete report possible, I went for the Summer Set.

This entailed a small katsu (between 2 and 3 inches and round, but described as 'bite size'!), a fried shrimp, and a special item that was two long tubes of rolled pork with perilla and plum paste inside, sandwiching several okra, all of which had been appropriately coated and fried. This last was the highlight as it had the most interesting texture and flavor; I have a feeling I short-changed you by not getting a real katsu as the quality of meat in the katsu itself was not exceptional. The shrimp was good but not outstanding. Oddly, the coating seemed a little different on each item - lighter on the shrimp than the others, more oily on the katsu. It reminded me a little of the un-enjoyed and somewhat dreaded Santa (henceforth, let's call that place (unfairly) Evil Santa) in that there were big pieces of bread in the crumb coat, which sorta soaked up the oil. Rice was very very good. Cabbage was very fresh and dressing was good and yuzu-ey, but somehow too viscous (Katsukura's remains my benchmark for cabbage dressing). Soup was wacky - using red stock, they seemed to have then darkened things further with the addition of dark miso. It was heavy and good, but not quite the thing to follow a heavy set of fried pork items!

This seems to be the best tonkatsu rec I can come up with in this area, but I'm also prepared for the Shin Maru place to be better when at last it comes across the desk...

Ahhh, geez, it's part of the Wako group. Well, at least this gives me an opportunity to point out that I recommend against Wako; it's pretty ordinary. There're only 4 of this brand, and they seem to be upscale compared to regular Wako, of which there are a LOT. You can feel better since there only 4, but as we learned with Le Remois, even 4 is a sin.

Here, try this link.

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