Tokyo Tonkatsu Restaurants: My Favorite Five

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

Sugita interior

A perfectly prepared tonkatsu—a thick, juicy pork cutlet enrobed in a golden crust of crisp breadcrumbs—is a thing of beauty. Achieving such perfection, though, is not easy. The cutlet must be properly sourced and sized. The oil must be fresh and kept at the exact scalding temperature. And the flake size of the crumb must be carefully considered.

The dredging in flour, beaten egg, and bread crumb must be done quickly and expertly. The chef must keep a wary eye and ear on the frying process watching the changing hue of the coating, the size and rate and sound of the rising steam-filled bubbles, and the buoyancy of the frying katsu.

Yamaichi picklesA tonkatsu meal will always include a small mound of finely shredded cabbage, and some type of tangy Worcestershire-based sauce handy on the table. If you order a teishoku set menu, you’ll get a bowl of rice, a bowl of miso or tonjiru (pork broth) soup, and a small dish of pickles.

In the restaurants that take pride in their work, the cabbage filaments are cut by hand, the pickles are house-made, and the soup is too.

If you’re looking for pork heaven, never mind that former bathhouse place that’s in all the guidebooks. Search out one or all of these establishments chosen from my favorite tonkatsu places across the city.

Yamaichi tonkatsuBairin in Ginza started serving tonkatsu in 1927. And their 200-gram kurobuta (Berkshire pig) cutlet is two centimeters of tender luscious goodness. This rosu cut includes a thin strip of tasty melt-in-your-mouth fat beneath the crisp breading. Unusually, and aesthetically pleasing, the mound of sweet cabbage includes dark green filaments from the outer leaves.

The handiwork at Bairin runs as smooth as a fine pocket watch. In a row behind the long counter stand four white uniformed cooks each precisely doing his appointed task: frying, cutting, preparing side orders, and ladling out soup and rice. Another cook in the kitchen provides a constant staccato of hocho knife chopping fresh cabbage.

Though a bit pricey, the 2,700-yen rosu katsu teishoku is very well worth it. The house-made sauce at Bairin is especially toothsome.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE A few minutes from JR Omori station, Maru-ichi is a tiny place with only a 7-seat counter and two tables each seating four. The menu is small too. All orders are teishoku sets. You can choose either the lean hire or the succulent rosu each at several weights: 170 grams (1300 yen), 250 grams (1700 yen), or for the genuine trencherman, the 300-gram plate.

All the ingredients at Maru-ichi are carefully sourced. The pearly pink cutlets come from Iwate. The red-orange carrots are grown in Chiba, and the surprisingly sweet cabbages are harvested in the Miura peninsula.

Compared to other tonkatsu joints, their rice is softer and more delicious; the carrots and cabbage sweeter; the meat more tender and flavorful. This is due to the great care that goes into everything at Maru-ichi. They go to the trouble, for example, of boiling the carrots, burdock, and onions separately to make sure they are evenly tender before adding them to pork-based miso soup to make their tonjiru.

Don’t mind the drab exterior of Maru-ichi. The interior is spotlessly clean and all efforts at beauty are focused on the plate.

 

marugo tonkatsuA few minutes walk from Akihabara station, Marugo is another tonkatsu connoisseur destination.

They feature sangenton pork from Yamagata prefecture. This crossbreed animal is a mix of Yorkshire, Landrace, and Duroc hogs which results in a fine balance of flavor and lacy marbling in the flesh.

The rosu is three centimeters thick, terrifically juicy and tender (1750 yen). They also boast a special dressing for the cabbage.

Sugita tonkatsuWorth a trip to Kuramae, one stop from Asakusa, is Sugita (pictured above). This nicely designed restaurant with its second-generation chef and gleaming copper pots serves a tonkatsu (2000 yen) with a bread crumb as fine as sand which makes an especially crispy crust. Of course, they also have their own specially blended sauce.

The folks at Yamaichi in Kanda Sudacho serve a tonkatsu that is thicker than at most other tonkatsu joints. It is expertly trimmed, weighed, and coated with a larger size of bread crumb too. The teishoku sets feature a reasonably-priced hire (1600 yen) or the rosu (1500 yen) with its strip of delicious fat nestled in unctuousness under the crust.

Yamaichi tonkatsuYamaichi believes in condiments. On the table are a panoply of 11 various additions to choose from such as Andes salt, yuzu kosho, shichimi, two kinds of shoyu, pickled scallions, mustard, two kinds of salad dressing, sesame, ponzu sauce, umeboshi, and bull-dog sauce.

Yamaichi is decorated with some style. The tables are dark, gleaming grainy wood. Framed modern lithographs hang on the wall. Don’t worry about the line that usually forms outside the restaurant. It moves quickly and you’ll soon be inside. Be sure to spot the little Shinto shrine tucked into corner near the ceiling.

 

 

Ginza Bairin: 7-8-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3571-0350. Open 7 days a week (except January 1.) 11:30 am – 8:45 pm. Cash only. www.ginzabairin.com.

Maru-ichi: 1-7-2 Omori Kita, Ota-ku. Tel: 03-3762-2601. Lunch 11:30 to 1 pm. Dinner 5 pm to 7 pm. Closed Wednesdays, Sundays, and National Holidays. Maru-ichi is about a 2-minute walk from the East exit of Omori Station.

Yamaichi: 1-8-4 Kanda Sudacho, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-3253-3335. Open Monday to Friday 11am to 2:30pm. Dinner: 5pm to 8:30pm. Saturdays: 11am to 2pm (L.O. 1:30pm). Closed Sundays and holidays.

Marugo: 1-8-14 Soto Kanda, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-3255-6595. Lunch 11:30am to 2:50pm. Dinner 5pm to 8:20pm. Closed Mondays and third Tuesdays. About 4 minute walk from Akihabara station.

Sugita: 3-8-3 Kotobuki, Taito-ku. Tel: 03-3844-5529. Lunch 11:30am to 2pm. Dinner 5pm to 8:30pm. Closed Thursdays. About one-minute walk from subway exit A5 of Kuramae station.

Yamaichi: Another tonkatsu joint worth knowing

Friday, July 19th, 2013

Yamaichi tonkatsu

Jack Sprat could eat no fat, and his wife could eat no lean. The couple, though, would both eat heartily at Yamaichi.

The folks here treat their pork with respect. Jack would be able to savor Yamaichi’s lean and luscious pork filet (1600 yen) carefully deep-fried in a crisp tonkatsu crust. His wife could order the Yamaichi “ros” (1500 yen) with its strip of delicious pork fat nestled in unctuousness under the crust.

Yamaichi condimentsYamaichi believes in condiments.

On the table are a panoply of 11 various additions to choose from such as Andes salt, yuzu kosho, shichimi, two kinds of shoyu, pickled scallions, mustard, two kinds of salad dressing, sesame, ponzu sauce, umeboshi, and bull-dog sauce.

The pork at Yamaichi is thicker that at most tonkatsu joints. It is expertly trimmed, weighed, and coated with a larger size of bread crumb.

Tonkatsu chefs sometimes use two kettles each of which heats the oil to a hotter or cooler temperatures depending on the thickness of the meat. Yamaichi uses a hotter oil resulting in a darker, golden brown crust.

Yamaichi counterThe small restaurant is decorated with some style. The tables are dark, gleaming grainy wood. Framed modern lithographs hang on the wall. One brush-stroke calligraphic print asks the question: “What is a voyage?

Only about a dozen or so lucky customers can dine at one time. A short counter seats four. A large 7-seat table fills the room with space for only one small 2- seat table.

Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to share the large table with other happy customers.

With the teishoku set-menu you’ll get a small dish of the house-made pickles, which besides being arranged in a picture-perfect cluster,  are lightly vinegared to add a bright counterpoint to the pork. A small wooden bowl of tonkotsu pork-flavored broth and a bowl of rice will round out the meal.

Yamaichi picklesDon’t worry about the line that usually forms outside the restaurant. It moves quickly and you’ll soon be inside.

Be sure to spot the little Shinto shrine tucked into corner near the ceiling.

Yamaichi: 1-8-4 Kanda Sudacho, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-3253-3335. Open Monday to Friday 11am to 2:30pm. Dinner: 5pm to 8:30pm. Saturdays: 11am to 2pm (L.O. 1:30pm). Closed Sundays and holidays.

The restaurant is about a one-minute walk from the A1 exit of the subway station which serves both the Ogawamachi stop of the Maronouchi Line, or the Awajicho stop of the Shinjuku Line.

 

 

 

 

Tonpachi tei: another fine Tokyo tonkatsu joint

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Okachimachi Station near Ueno is a hive of activity. It sits at the tail end of the Ameyoko street market and seems to be under constant construction and reconstruction. Kasuga dori is the main thoroughfare perpendicular to the Yamanote tracks and after a short walk down that main street you’ll spot  the pit viper shop, Bunkyudo, the write-up of which you’ll find in the January 2009 archives of this blog. Next to Bunkyudo is a narrow passageway called “Tanuki Roji” which translates to Racoon Alley.

Down Racoon Alley on the left you’ll come upon Tonpachi, a fine tonkatsu joint. I first found Tonpachi a handful of years ago when it was still being run by the second-generation master. It was a narrow, dark, atmospheric eatery that despite its decrepitude turned out a tasty tonkastu. In my absence, the place has been gutted and rebuilt into a narrow bright, still somewhat atmospheric eatery run now by the third-generation master.

The master is a talkative fellow. He explains that his great grandfather started the tonkatsu shop nearly 70 years ago. The grandfather, though, wasn’t much interested in pigs or cooking so he opened a coffee shop instead which is now defunct. The master’s father took over the business and just recently retired. The old shop had to be remodeled, he adds, because things here and there were falling apart.

The thick pork cutlets at Tonpachi hail from Chiba. The filiment-cut cabbage is sourced wherever it is sweetest, says the master. The very narrow shop is mostly counter and kitchen with a small table for two and a less small table for four. A television set above the “oshibori” steamer seems permanently set to samurai dramas. His wife assists. Every so often she opens the oshibori heater and spritzes the heated towels with a fragrant mist. They have what could be Tokyo’s best smelling hot towels. I spent a long moment inhaling the fresh soap scent with the towel pressed to my nose.

The “ros” tonkatsu set (1700 yen) comes with a mound of that fine cabbage, a dollop of potato salad, a small bowl of very fine house-made pickles: turnip, carrot, cucumber and Chinese cabbage, and a bowl of miso soup loaded with tofu and bits of pork. The breading on the cutlet is flaky and crisp. The master prefers the slower, slightly cooler frying temperature that some other tonkastu joints use.

The more expensive “hire” or filet cutlet is also fine. Oysters and crab are in season now, and Tonpachi offers a set featuring either of those for 1400 yen. On the counter is an array of condiments: Worchestershire Sauce, the house-made tonkatsu sauce, and a tiny pot of mustard. Also is a cute little toothpick dispenser. Push the crow down and he’ll pick up a toothpick in his beak.

From my counter seat, we chat about Tokyo and how much it’s changed in 30 years. Raccoon Alley got its moniker from an old coffee shop named Raccoon,says the master, that used to be situated nearby. Not his grandfather’s place, though, he adds. Nor were ever any real raccoons about.

When I finish and am sipping a cup of green tea, the master points to a box of shop namecards at the end of the counter near the door.

“I’ll take one,” I say, “and I’ll recommend this place to my friends.”

“Please!” he says. “Take four or five or six.”

 

Tonpachi Tei: 4-3-4 Ueno, Taito-ku. 03.3831.4209

Closed Sundays.

 

 

Maru-ichi: One of Tokyo’s finest tonkatsu joints

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Sometimes you’ve just got to have a tonkatsu—a thick pork cutlet enrobed in a golden crust of crisply-fried breadcrumbs.

Achieving tonkatsu perfection is not easy. The cutlet must be properly sized. The oil must be fresh and kept at exactly the proper scalding temperature. The breading must protect the flesh and seal in all the tender juices, yet come out entirely grease free.

Masaru Yamagawa learned the fine art of tonkatsu from a master—his father who started his modest little restaurant, Maru-ichi, almost fifty years ago. Over the decades, the father trained disciples who have gone on to set up their own Maru-named tonkatsu shops across Tokyo. Now, though, the son is the master and he serves some of the best tonkatsu in the city.

All the ingredients at Maru-ichi are carefully sourced. The pearly pink cutlets come from Iwate. The red-orange carrots are grown in Chiba, and the surprisingly sweet cabbages are harvested in the Miura peninsula where the spring cabbages, especially those picked from late March to late April are renowned.

It’s still a family operation at Maru-ichi. Masaru’s elderly mother, sporting a nifty white jacket and white kerchief, watches over the rice, which is cooked in a large old-fashioned kama over a gas flame—the tastiest way to make rice.

Behind the counter at Masaru’s elbow, his wife readies each plate with a mound of lacy, shredded cabbage, a spring of curly parsley, and bright wedge of lemon.

Maru-ichi is a tiny place with only a 7-seat counter and two tables each seating four. The menu is small too. All orders are set menus, teishoku, with rice, house-made pickles, and tonjiru soup. You can choose either the leaner “hire,” (filet) or the luscious “ros” (loin) each at several weights: 170 grams, 250 grams, or for the genuine trencherman, the 300-gram plate.

On my most recent visit, Masaru confided that he was fascinated by UFOs and Area 51 in Nevada. Maybe that explains the otherworldly flavors of the Maru-ichi teishoku. Compared to other tonkatsu joints, the rice is softer and more delicious; the carrots and cabbage sweeter; the meat more tender and flavorful. The real secret, though, is probably the great care that goes into everything at Maru-ichi. They go to the trouble, for example, of boiling the carrots, burdock, and onions separately to make sure they are evenly tender before adding them to pork-based miso soup to make tonjiru.

Customers don’t mind the drab exterior of Maru-ichi. They know that the interior is spotlessly clean and all efforts at beauty are focused on the plate. On that recent visit, I ordered the 170-gram tonkatsu teishoku (1,300 yen). Next to me, a well-dressed matron with a diamond-encrusted emerald ring, as big as a walnut on her left hand, ordered the larger 250-gram teishoku (1,700 yen). When she finished, she left without paying. She’s a joren, a regular, and she’ll get her bill at the of the month.

For the complete review, and other of my reviews, please check out:

http://metropolis.co.jp/dining/restaurant-reviews/maru-ichi/

Maru-ichi: 1-7-2 Omori Kita, Ota-ku. Tel: 03-3762-2601.

Lunch 11:30 to 1 pm. Dinner 5 pm to 7 pm.

Closed Wednesdays, Sundays, and National Holidays.

Maru-ichi is about a 2-minute walk from the East exit of Omori Station.

Nagoya-style Miso Tonkatsu at Yabaton in Ginza

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Tonkatsu, a slice of deep-fried breaded pork, is one of Japan’s most loved dishes. The arch-type dish features a crisply fried, mahogany-brown cutlet—either the luscious “ros” (loin) or the leaner “hi-re” (filet)—nestled against an airy mound of raw cabbage filaments, freshly shredded. A small pot of Worchester-style usuta sauce is always on the table to ladle over the cutlet and cabbage. And a dab of hot yellow mustard is usually swiped onto the edge of the plate for those who want a bit of fire to flavor their juicy morsel.

Some sixty years ago in Nagoya, the tonkatsu shop Yabaton started serving its cutlets enrobed in a slightly sweet, red soybean miso sauce. It was a huge success. Yabaton’s lone church of the miso katsu gospel is in the Ginza, a few streets away from the glitz and crowds of the high street.

The most popular order is the Teppan Tonkatsu (1365 yen). The deep-fried cutlet comes on a bed of freshly shredded cabbage sizzling and steaming on an iron plate. Some of the cabbage is softened, slightly sauteéd by the iron plate, but the cabbage under the tonkatsu remain crisp—providing both a textural and taste contrast.

Of course, extra red miso sauce is in the pot, and if you order the set menu (1765 yen), you’ll also get a bowl of miso soup, rice, and some small pink pickles.

For neophytes, Yabaton provides a tiny placard on the table with a set of instructions on how to proceed eating this novel dish:

•First, take a bite of the tonkatsu just as it has been served.

•If you feel the red miso sauce is a bit sweet, add a dab of mustard.

•For those who want to change the taste a little, add some freshly-ground sesame seed from the grinder.

Togarashi, red chili pepper flakes, goes very well with this miso katsu, try some if you like.

•Finally, there are many ways to enjoy eating miso katsu, enjoy them all.

How can you go wrong with instructions like that?

Yabaton: 4-10-14 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03.3546.8810. Open 11am to 10pm. Closed on Mondays.

http://ginza.yabaton.com