Thursday, September 10, 2009

Katsukichi, Marunouchi (かつ吉,新丸5階)

Probably a boring post, but let's see where it takes us, OK? At least it will be tangential, I can promise you that.

On a sunny late-summer day that only increased the twinges of autumn that have been percolating in the air all week, I asked Ponkan to go out for lunch. She said that Kuma was stopping by, so we went together. And here's the tangent - economics.

He's been paid a subsidy not to work for ages now, like a farmer paid not to grow alfalfa. If I understand correctly, the government has an initiative in place that lets companies reduce hours without reducing employment. Presumably this is a full-employment preservation measure - furlough a little now so you don't have to fire a lot later. But the practical effect is that he had off on Fridays all summer, as well as a solid two weeks, at 90% pay. Well done, government! The funny thing is that I don't actually feel that bad about this - I think the federal taxes in Japan are reasonable. The local taxes are a different story - I don't feel good about paying a combined 10% state and local tax.

Jealousy aside, there was pork to be eaten. It seems that tonkatsu is a bit of a hobby with Kuma, based on the certainty with which Pon said we were going for it and also the way he said "I like tonkatsu." They advocated Oazo, while I suggested Shin Maru - great weather, may as well have a walk. Pon reserved, which was a good idea as it was full when we got there at 12.

The first thing you'll notice when you look at the menu is that this is luxury tonkatsu, despite the rustic trimmings of the shop. At a normal shop, they'll have normal tonkatsu and possibly a higher-level 'jou' version. Here the basic katsu is the jou, and they also have the specially-selected 'tokubetsu' level above that. (I'm not sure where tokujou fits into this hierarchy, but you see that sometimes too.). Your cheapest option was thus Y1500 for some species of fake cutlet, with your jou rosu being Y2100. Since the low-level rosu is the basic unit of exchange at a katsu shop, that's steep.

Aside on cuts: in addition to the quality levels, tonkatsu usually comes in either hile or rosu, and I spell these in a Japanese way only to obscure the fact that they're filet and roast. The filet is leaner and softer, while the roast is fattier and usually has an untrimmed strip of fat along one side. I think these are equivalent to roasting pork and tenderloin, if you're cutting in the USA. In Britain the filet is probably called the "spotted hogswart" or something.

Well, the meat was very high quality, everyone agreed. Kuma and I got the mixed fry sets, one in roast and one in filet, and both cuts were soft, juicy and flavorful. They must get the pork from somewhere special. We also had crab-cream croquettes, which were ordinary but very smooth and creamy, and a shrimp cutlet that was very unique since it was more of a pressed ball of small shrimps, battered and fried and halved. A good idea, that. In general, I found their coating and frying to be less satisfactory. Perhaps to show off the meat to better effect, the coating was fairly thin, while the frying was light and left the outside more toasted than golden brown. Sauce was not distinguished. Side dishes were distinguished - you have the option of shiso rice (heavily mixed with finely-chopped shiso) and a good soup with a plethora of nameko mushrooms. Plus a pleasant salad and three types of pickles to be shared by the table, and good tea, refilled regularly.

Well, membership has its privileges, as they say. This is a good example of getting what you pay for, not more or less, in ingredient quality, variety and service. At Kuma's suggestion, I'm thinking of implementing Tonkatsu Thursdays (since today was the first day of it; in reality Tonkatsu Tuesday has a nicer ring). If that pans out, I think I'll come up with a better recommendation in short order but until then Katsukichi is good if you feel flush.

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