A plateful of Katsutei

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I can’t say that I know my tonkatsu well enough to properly describe what it should and shouldn’t be. However, there are certain points that need to be present in order for a piece of breaded pork to be remotely considered tasty, delicious – “authentic” Japanese, even. “Authentic” is used loosely because I haven’t been to Japan to savor tonkatsu the way the locals prepare it.  Basically: the breading needs to take to the meat well. The meat in turn, has to be tender, moist and flaky. Above all, it should be tasty enough to dampen my inclination to dip everything in soy sauce and vinegar just so I can appreciate it. That’s just how I roll!

It also makes sense that katsu places can find their niche in the Metro. It’s a natural tendency for Filipinos to appreciate anything fried and breaded, especially if paired with rice.

Katsutei is a relative newcomer in the katsu area. We just happened to pass by their restaurant without the slightest intention to have dinner there, but my friend was intrigued, especially having dined at Yabu recently, and hey, it didn’t hurt that at the time, they slashed 20% off their meals as a welcome treat for customers!

The industrial-ish theme works well to give off a sense of casual, no-frills dining.
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What drove me to order pork tonkatsu curry (240php with miso soup and a regular sized drink) instead of the usual tonkatsu meal with shredded cabbage? Well, I’ve had a tonkatsu meal at Yabu before, plus Fish and co.’s seafood curry has been on my mind since I tried it. Since my order would still have with it a piece of breaded and fried pork, there was no harm in trying it out.

Basic verdict: The tonkatsu curry is good. The pork is perfectly breaded, soft and flaky, not tough at all. I’m beginning to appreciate curry even more if it’s paired with a breaded piece of happiness. Come on, I love pork! They can get stingy with the side vegetables, but I think that’s expected given its price.
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They serve iced green tea with their combo meal – I like anything remotely related to green tea, so I had no problems with it. I’m not sure if they actually used chilled green tea from actual tea leaves or sweetened green tea powder to make their drink though.
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Sure, 200 – 300 pesos isn’t exactly a budget meal, but what you get with that amount is a plate of what good tonkatsu should be. It’s a notch cheaper than Yabu’s offerings, and strangely enough, after discussing it with my friend (same friend dined with me at Yabu and Katsutei), she would gladly go back to either restaurant. Go to Yabu for an emphasized authentic Japanese katsu experience; go to Katsutei to get your quick and simple katsu fix sans the frills. Either way, you will be satisfied.

I’ll definitely go back to try their interpretation of the tonkatsu meal (215php with miso soup and regular drink), and perhaps the fish katsu with tartar sauce and fries (165php with miso soup and regular drink), and the crispy chicken teriyaki don (185php with miso soup and regular drink). But for now, there’s a steaming bowl of adobo rice with my name on it that requires my attention.
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Katsutei

Upper Ground Level, SM City North EDSA
North Avenue corner EDSA
Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

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The art of breading and frying at Yabu (House of Katsu)

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When a restaurant boldly decides to give itself a title, the connotation that it carries must live up to the hype. Such is the case of Yabu, “The House of Katsu”, located at the 2nd floor of the SM Megamall Atrium. It’s Japanese all the way, but as the name suggests, the menu is chock full of everything breaded and fried (katsudon). Katsudon derives its name from tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) and donburi (rice bowl).

When we arrived, the place wasn’t jam-packed so reservation or no reservation, we were seated right away. The area was still very spacious, with two main dining areas quirkily separated by a glass (or fiberglass) panel decorated with large pieces of comic book pages that detail how a “katsu master” passes on his wisdom to a naïve apprentice. So the place does invite a little bit of casual humor.
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As soon as we settled in, we were given a small bowl with regular and black sesame seeds, together with a wooden pestle. The server assigned to us gamely demonstrated how the dipping sauce is made, which seemed simple enough for someone like me to understand: really grind the seeds until it resembles coarse powder and then add in the thick sauce. The sauce isn’t too sweet, with a tangy taste that reminds me of really thick Worcestershire sauce.
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The menu also holds the “Yabu promise”: if we’re not happy with what we’ve eaten, they will gladly replace it/we get our money back or if the food isn’t served within 30 minutes, it’s free of charge. The confident declaration of excellence doesn’t stop there: Yabu apparently tapped Chef Kazuya Takeda of Tonkatsu Takeshin (in Tokyo) to help train their chefs. With our tummy’s grumbling, our expectations were definitely high.

Our food arrived around 20 minutes after we gave our orders. Not bad at all.

When you order a Tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) Set, you can either have the ‘hire’ (flaky pork tenderloin with no fat) or ‘rosu’ (juicy pork loin with a trimming of fat). Prices vary according to the weight of the pork.

We had the 120 gram Rosu Set (355php). It comes with generous serving of unlimited thinly sliced cabbage (according to the comic strip, the cabbage blades need to be exact in thickness) with sesame dressing, unlimited Japanese rice, miso soup, Japanese pickles and a bowl of fruit (watermelon and pineapple – my favorite).
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The problem with cooking pork, especially a cut that doesn’t have a lot of fat, is that it can get very tough if overcooked, and even if it’s cooked perfectly, without the pork fat it can taste bland (I’m a firm believer that pork needs to be served with a generous amount of fat!).

Surprisingly, the pork was juicy and not tough at all. The breading evenly coated the meat well, without it being too crunchy.

You can either dip every piece you skewer in the dipping sauce you made, but I think the katsu can still hold its own without it.

We also had a Hire (tenderloin) and Seafood Mixed Katsu Set (475php) which included a black tiger prawn, scallop, cream dory, eggplant and pepper. This is where things get interesting.
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Of course the hire delivered. It was flaky and had no traces of it being tough, just like the rosu. But when I tried a piece of breaded cream dory, I probably had a foodgasm. My friend felt the same way. Right there I developed tunnel vision and saw only the cream dory which was incredibly soft and flaky without being fishy and slimy. There’s probably no other word to describe it except perfect. It was the perfect marriage of crunch from the breading and silky softness from the fish itself. It doesn’t need to be dipped in the sauce or paired with rice to be appreciated (and loved). But those nuances work, too.
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But I didn’t forget about the other things in the set!

The tiger prawn was cooked perfectly because like the breaded pork, it wasn’t tough at all. My least favorite item on the set would have to be the scallop though just because I would prefer to have it steamed or pan-seared and not breaded. But hey it is a katsu place after all. The eggplant and the pepper were great additions to the set since it offered another “texture under another texture” option.

Both sets had the same side dishes: the cabbage with the sesame dressing duo complimented each other well. Run of the mill coleslaw this is not. But between my friend and I, she liked the cabbage more than I did. The miso soup tasted just the way miso soup should taste like, so no arguments there. I particularly like the Japanese rice, which has a deliciously inviting neutral taste that goes well with the breaded items.
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I ordered shochu (an Iichiko Super, 175php) with my set, which had a great kick to it. Sake (rice wine) is an alcoholic beverage made from rice. Shochu is Japanese liquor made from other ingredients, not just rice: sweet potato, buckwheat or barley. While sake is brewed, shochu is distilled.
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The servers were attentive without being smothering, which is always something I appreciate when dining out.  Although this can be negligible, the chairs a little bit low relative to the height of the table. I’m 5’10” and I did notice that. My friend 5’2” and she was really the one who felt it. But we went through dinner happy and pretty full so it wasn’t that big of a deal!

All in all, Yabu, is the Japanese restaurant that could. I’ve always been partial to all things breaded and fried because that has always been on my list of comfort foods. But this little resto takes it a notch higher by translating authenticity into a casual, no frills dining experience. The prices are a bit steep but I felt that every meal was worth it. I would definitely come back again, if only for the cream dory (haha!) and maybe for more selections next time.

Disclaimer: In the spirit of marketing, I was invited by the brand manager and ordered free of charge. But all opinions are mine.

Yabu: House of Katsu 

2nd floor, SM Megamall Atrium, Julia Vargas Avenue, Mandaluyong City

(02) 576-3900

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/yabuhouseofkatsu

Website: http://www.yabuhouseofkatsu.com

 

Breaded Pork Cutlet with Pineapple-Lychee Sauce

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This week was a blur. After we were done with the Easter celebration, everyday felt like a strange shift back to monotony and admittedly, I purposely ignored posting anything new. When I didn’t have anything else better to do, before I started this blog, and especially during the summer, I’d read a good book. I surmise that no matter how old I’d be, I’ll always be a devoted consumer of children’s fiction.

But I really don’t think I can consider The Millennium Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for starters) children’s fiction. No, no, no. It’s peppered with all sorts of things that, well, aren’t safe for work. But I really enjoyed reading it, probably because it’s a brilliant, intricate yet incredibly straightforward crime novel and I haven’t really immersed myself in that realm yet.

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So yeah, my week was filled with amble reading moments, and I think I needed that. But during the moments in-between reading, I remember that I had to feed myself too. And without a lot of intricate preparation, I managed to whip up something decent. Scratch that, it isn’t just decent…it’s really good.

This is just the standard breaded pork, which really becomes more flavorful if you let the meat marinate in vinegar, garlic and sugar (yes, sugar), overnight.

But now we come to the issue of the sauce. Sure, the standard soy sauce-vinegar-calamansi dipping sauce is a winner, but it was when I read the book Asian Dumplings that I found a little gold nugget. Towards the end of her book, Andrea Nguyen shares recipes for sauces commonly partnered with dumplings and beyond. One of which, she calls ‘Sweet and Sour Sauce’, but her description is far from the mental image that I know is sweet and sour sauce. The bottled kind is…reddish-orange, ketchup-y, slightly translucent.

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This one is (in her words) “a rich dark honey color, this tart-sweet-savory sauce does not resemble the cloying, sticky, bright red sauce that’s often served at Chinese restaurants.” She also hints that this can be a blank canvas for other flavors – tropical (use canned pineapple juice instead of water) and/or spicy (add ginger and chili to the mix).

What’s more tropical than pineapple? pineapple-lychee of course! But don’t count pine-orange or pine-mango out, because as of writing this, now I understand why this sauce is definitely a blank canvas.  I was sold.

(And….I’m about to read The Girl Who Played With Fire. Time is definitely divided.)

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Breaded Pork (serves 4 – 6)

1 kg pork chops or belly (if using belly, ask the butcher to slice it into uniform pieces 5 – 6 inches long)

Marinade:

  • ½ cup white cane vinegar
  • Half a bulb of garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Breading

  • Flour
  • 1 – 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • Salt or liquid seasoning (Maggi or Knorr)
  • Breadcrumbs
  1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl or Tupperware and add in the pork. Mix well and leave in the refrigerator preferably overnight.
  2. When ready to fry, set-up a dipping station using 3 shallow dishes. In the first dish, add flour enough to coat the pork.  Begin with around ½ cup, adding a few tablespoons more when needed. Season the flour with salt and pepper. In the second dish, lightly beat the egg. It’s best to start with one egg, then if it runs out, beat in another one. Add a pinch of salt or a few drops of liquid seasoning. In the third dish, add the breadcrumbs.
  3. Using tongs, dredge both sides of the pork with the flour. Then dip both sides in the egg. Lastly, coat both sides with the breadcrumbs.
  4. Over medium-low to medium heat, heat enough oil to cover the bottom of a nonstick pan. When the oil is glistening, add the pork pieces. You may need to work in batches, 2 or 3 at a time, depending on the size of the pan. Do not overcrowd the pan. Fry each side for around 8 – 10 minutes or until breading turns golden brown.

Sweet and Sour Sauce (makes 1 cup)

  • ¼ cup lightly packed light brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons vinegar (any kind)
  • ½ cup pineapple-lychee juice (Dole or Del Monte)
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
  1. Combine the sugar, salt, ketchup, soy sauce, vinegar and water in a small saucepan.
  2. Bring to a near boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
  3. Give the cornstarch a stir and then add it to the pan. Continue cooking,  stirring, for about 15 seconds, or until the sauce comes to a full boil and thickens.
  4. Remove from heat, transfer to a serving bowl, and set aside for 10 minutes to cool and concentrate in flavor.
  5. Taste and add extra salt, if needed. Serve warm or at room temperature. Feel free to prepare this sauce a day in advance.

Tonkatsu

What I Ate @ Sambo Kojin

“Because I’d like to believe it’s important to tell the world what you ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner”
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Just because I told you that my Manila trip was more business than pleasure doesn’t mean that I didn’t have fun one way or the other. Because I had a few high school classmates living/working/studying in Manila, we just had to meet up a few hours before my flight home. Going to the carnival was at the top of my friend R’s list of things to do before leaving.
But since it was too much of a stretch to carry our bags to Star City then to the airport, we decided to join the rest of the people at Eastwood’s Sambo Kojin – a grill-all-you-can Yakiniku resto.
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My stomach wasn’t cooperating with me when we got there. I didn’t even know it was a Japanese resto. When we sat down and I took in the spacious surroundings filled with families, friends and everyone in between, I had the feeling this place was a crowd favorite. But they didn’t have hot tea on the menu to quell my stomach, so that was hopefully my only disappointment.

Normally my love for Japanese food is limited to California Maki and Ebi Tempura. When I saw the spread – there was a lot of raw meat and seafood.
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“Are we supposed to eat all of this raw?!” “Why is there so much raw BACON?!” “Do the Japanese actually eat RAW BACON?!” I mentally cursed.

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But then I was relieved to find out that the tables all had a smokeless grill. Sambo Kojin was a smokeless grill resto afterall. I put two and two together and inwardly gave myself a facepalm. Yes Virginia, you use the smokeless grill to cook the raw food.

I didn’t know/recognize 97% of what I got from the spread. But let me just put it out there: Sambo Kojin made me feel like a kid again. I had the time of my life with the smokeless grill. You can actually ask my friends; they felt my joy.
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I had so much fun using the smokeless grill that I didn’t even bother to eat the raw fare. Looking back on the experience I should have appreciated their sushi and sashimi more but the grill takes the cake.
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After getting over my initial ‘eat it raw’ scare, I happily filled my plate with the different kinds of raw marinated meat. It was too bad there was so much of it spread out and they didn’t even have labels to distinguish one from the other. That would have been so helpful for a newbie. This was probably my second disappointment.
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But grill the meat I did and that was a great way to start our course. The meats were perfectly seasoned that I didn’t even see the need to dip it in their sauces. I was practically smiling on the inside.
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But another revelation that I had was their ebi tempura. Now it can be said, that the bar for an absolutely amazing ebi tempura has been raised, and Sambo Kojin takes the top spot (!). Theirs was all about the shrimp. It was perfectly cooked and so tender; light years away from ATOA’s version, which I can now describe as eating leather (I’m sorry, ATOA). Sambo Kojin’s tempura was like cotton. The shrimp sizes were reasonably smaller than ATOA’s, but the taste made up for it.
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Another equally satisfying dish was the skewered fish belly. I didn’t know what kind  of fish it was and I just assumed that I was fish belly because it was so fatty. I only had two skewers before I surrendered. Like the meat, there was no need to dip it in sauce because it tasted great on its own. Fatty, but extremely satisfying.
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The last surprise that we had at the end of the meal was that we got more food than we can finish! There was still a plate full of meat rolls that was left untouched. I regret not getting a little of everything and just go back to the buffet if we need refills.
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You pay 595php (exclusive of drinks, their bottomless iced tea was pretty pricey at 92php) not just for the food but for the experience as well. Dining there made me think of more possibilities that can ‘nurture’ an appreciation for Japanese food. If only I can master using chopsticks to pick up food instead of using it to skewer meat.

But thinking about the experience, it can wipe any form of regret off your plate. Sambo Kojin had a lot of options to share, and if resisting the natural impulse to get what looks safe and familiar can be helped, then I believe it can make a fan out of you.

And strangely enough we weren’t charged for the leftovers. Lucky us. But instead of taking the risk, take only what you think you can consume. The buffet isn’t going anywhere. We went home extremely full and satisfied. We were happy campers that night. Never mind that they didn’t serve hot tea.

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Class picture

I didn’t just fall in love with Sambo Kojin – I married it that night. And so the long distance affair has begun.

What I Ate @ Eureka (Palmeras)

“Because I’d like to believe it’s important to tell the world what you ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner”

Is this just my second WIA post? Darn it. Anyway:

The Palmeras compound has two restaurants: the main resto and Eureka. Eureka offers Japanese cuisine. But what’s good about it is that even if you’re dining in the main resto you can still order from Eureka (if it’s open), and vice versa. So maybe we went there for the ambiance.
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Eureka is located behind/below Patio Palmeras’ main restaurant. Palmeras is one of Zamboanga’s most iconic and popular family restaurants. It’s famous for giving birth to the Knickerbocker – a medley of fruits bathing in a creamy milk sauce that is unmistakably theirs, with ice cream to boot.
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But personally I never get tired of going back to Palmeras because of one thing: their bilao. A bilao is essentially a large round wooden/woven plate dressed with banana leaves and studded with an assortment of meat, seafood and vegetables. Almost every family resto in the Philippines has their own interpretation of the bilao. But among the bilaos I’ve tried here in Zamboanga, Palmeras and Country Chicken take the top spot. (Country Chicken is a whole different story)
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Palmeras serves a damn good lechon kawali (deep fried pork belly). Paired with a simple dip of soy sauce, chilies and vinegar/calamansi – an epiphany.
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Now I’m a fan of ATOA (A Taste of Asia) because of their California Maki and Ebi Tempura. Because Eureka is a Japanese resto, we had to order the two dishes for comparison’s sake. Both were good, but I still prefer ATOA’s version because it tastes…fresher. But Eureka’s is not slimy nor rancid, it’s just…”meh”. But my friend begs to differ, so don’t take my word for it. (But I’m sure you’ll agree with me. haha!)
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Go there with the family/friends for a great bilao, order an extra serving of lechon kawali, a bowl of steaming rice and end your great meal with the Knickerbocker. Plus if you ask nicely they’ll give you a sweet and sour dipping sauce for the Calamares (breaded squid rings).

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Taking it all in, lunches/dinners are always great at Palmeras. The world would be a drearier place without it. The lechon kawali says it all.

Hacienda de Palmeras
Sta. Maria road, going to Pasonanca
(062) 991-3284

Chicken Donburi

I have to be honest – when I was making this post I did my fair, shallow share of research so I won’t offend any sensibilities. But of course, to err is human (haha)

I’m not a hardcore fan of Japanese food. I’m not even familiar with most of what’s considered Japanese. I don’t like sushi but I do enjoy California maki. I can crave for Ebi tempura, but I stay away from katsudon. Well, the issue with pork katsudon is that it was my first real meal after I was operated so eating it brings back memories I’d rather not remember fondly. And don’t get me started on wasabi (!)

But despite that, I still tried to make my first Japanese dish for lunch – chicken donburi. Apparently Japanese fastfood. (And right now I’m walking on eggshells because my disclaimer says it all)

Reading about donburi, I think my first mistake was using a plate instead of a bowl. Donburi means bowl and it’s also the name of a dish consisting of boiled riced topped with meat, fish, eggs and/or vegetables and broth. That’s the general term and it’s further divided into whatever protein is being used – Oyakodon (chicken and egg), Katsudon (pork) etc. I’m not sure if I’m reading what a Jap food purist might write (and we can skirt around some technicalities), so maybe somebody can enlighten this poor soul.

But whatever the process, it was still great. Thighs are my favorite part of the chicken. Groceries don’t sell it deboned so I did it myself. Yeah, this dish is a labor of love in more ways than one. And I’d gladly make this again because it’s so easy.

Making this probably gave me more exp points (this is a joke; experience points = video games = japanese. get it? omg was I offensive?!) in Japanese food appreciation.

Plus Pokemon was my all-time favorite show so maybe that counts for something under the appreciation department. Uhm, don’t hit me.


Chicken Donburi (serves 4 – 6)

adapted from The Best of Food Magazine (2001)

  • 3 chicken thigh fillets
  • 3 drumsticks
  • 1 1/2 cup water/chicken stock
  • 3/4 cup light soy sauce if using chicken stock; 1 cup if using water
  • 1 cup mirin
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 1/4 carrot, chopped into really small pieces/cubes
  • 1 lemon grass stalk, sliced into 3 inch strips
  • 1 pack oyster mushrooms (I didn’t know how many grams it was so how many you put in is your call)
  • 4 eggs
  1. Combine water/stock, soy sauce, mirin and sugar in a saucepan. Stir to mix and bring to a boil.
  2. Stir in chicken, onion, carrot and lemongrass. Lower heat and simmer for eight to ten minutes or until the broth reduces.
  3. Add mushrooms.
  4. In a small bowl, beat the eggs lightly. Pour on top of simmering chicken.
  5. Cover until chicken is fully cooked and eggs are set
  6. Spoon cooked chicken, mushrooms, carrots over a bed of rice. Serve warm with its broth on the side and drizzled on top of the chicken. Enjoy!