Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Yamaichi, Awajicho (やまいち,淡路町)

I really can't imagine a better tonkatsu than this. Should I stop there? This is unfortunately one of those reviews that's in the vein of "This is the best place in the world, but you'll never go there," but it was really good. I wish I could go back every day, but when you consider the size of the katsu and the amount of fat. Soft, tasty fat...

It's no surprise that this is recommended, considering the score it gets on Tabelog (currently #7 in Tokyo out of more than 1,200) and also the expert approval from Seat. It was more surprising to find empty seats when I arrived today (1:00), especially when you consider that it seats 14 at absolute max, with most of those people bumping elbows at the counter or communal table. But the 2-person table was empty and I was permitted to claim it despite the steady stream of 2-person parties entering after me. Thanks auntie! With a small, clean room and very pleasant service, Yamaichi feels very relaxed and secluded despite being...well, on a smaller street in a pretty quiet part of town. Strangely, it was full by the time I left.

Great tonkatsu starts with ingredients; I didn't ask about the breed of pig or where it was from, just ordered a "Special Roast". Very much to his credit, the master cuts each piece to order from a whole roast; I bet if you were a regular and he liked you, he'd...cut it exactly the same, because this is Japan, we don't show favorable treatment, and anyway any thicker or thinner wouldn't taste as good. Right? Amusingly, he stared hard at me for a second when I ordered that cut, almost like "You jerk...", but he started preparing. A few seconds later I thought "Ahhh, I've gotta see what's going on here, so I asked if there was a problem with that choice. He said "Are you OK with the fat?" and I said "It's tasty, innit?" and he nodded and got down with it. I've sat at the counter on subsequent visits and watched how he makes them - the dredging is flour-egg-flour-egg-breadcrumbs, and he presses down hard on the breadcrumbs to make sure they really stick. There's a whole layer of egg under the thick crust, and it's really good in the altogether.

The cabbage was bizarrely good too - you don't often think that at a tonkatsu place - and I noticed that he cuts it fresh, from heads of cabbage on the counter, with a knife. This almost seems perverse in our fast-moving modern times, but bless him for it. It makes a difference.

Pickles are good here, but I love all the other options they give you - they had tonkatsu sauce, a ponzu with oroshi daikon already mixed in, worcester sauce, soy sauce, Japanese hot pepper, yuzu kosho and pink crystallized salt. Plus, of course, mustard with the actual food. The only thing missing was the bowl of sesame that I used to love grinding at Katsukura, but with this much variety you can get through the biggest cutlet without boredom. And this is a big cutlet to get through.

The katsu itself was big, a departure from some other places (it's also $20, be warned). On the other hand, a solid inch of one side was taken up with fat (there's no actual meat in that close-up). On the other other hand, that too was delicious, especially when just out of the fryer and still melty...The meat and fat were both exceptional, while the doubled coating was thick yet light and perfectly done. I like the fact that the chef uses a big, shallow copper pot, much like an upper-grade tempura restaurant.

It's a big buildup to get to this point and not say anything else, but I've learned that I don't much like similies describing tastes. Just trust me that this is a great restaurant, where a serious and committed guy serves great tonkatsu, and you should go out of your way to try it.

Seriously. I'm not kidding around here.

[June 23, 2011: Big Bird and I went back today, finding almost no line. I ventured boldly in a new direction by not getting the teishoku (skip the rice and soup, save Y400 and a bunch of empty calories) and also ordering from the separate items available. The plate at left, plus a free refill of cabbage, was thus Y1250. That's half a menchi katsu, a kushi katsu, an ebi shinjo, and a crab croquette. They were every bit as extraordinary as the pork always is. The prospect of eating here for less than Y1k is there for the taking, and is an great value.]

1 comment:

  1. eat Tonkatsu at Marumasuya, Akabane. 500 yen, great.