Katsusei (勝勢) (Taipei)

February 1, 2015 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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Move over Anzu, there’s a new tonkatsu king in town.

For years, I have been convinced that Anzu (杏子) offers the best katsu in Taiwan, though recently I have heard murmurs that the quality of their food has declined significantly. At the same time, a new juggernaut, Katsusei (勝勢), is said to have emerged in Taipei’s Xinyi district at Breeze’s new Songgao store.

As it turns out, the two restaurants are owned by the same chain, so that explains a lot, but in any case I still had to check it out for myself.

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Apparently the place gets packed out early, so we arrived just after the clock struck 11am to ensure a seat. By noon there was a line forming outside.

Judging from the menu, the special is this kurobuta (black pork). They even have a super black one unique to Breeze that uses black crumbs. The other special is the Australian rib eye beef steak katsu.

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For those into seafood, they also have this massive tiger prawn katsu and Hiroshima oyster katsu, as depicted below.

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Other options in on the menu include regular tonkatsu, chicken rolls, steak and hot pots, as well as special lunch bentos.

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We ended up going with a kurobuta katsu (fillet) and a regular hire katsu (loin). With one of the orders we paid a bit extra for a set that includes a beverage and a choice of dessert.

Katsusei‘s sauces and condiments are very similar to Anzu‘s. They have this little tub of pickles which are really nice, plus all-you-can-eat rice and cabbage salad. The two salad dressings are sesame and shiso , and the two katsu sauces are sweet and spicy. As with most katsu restaurants these days you get a bowl of sesame to grind and mix with the sauces.

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The katsu was, as expected, sublime. Definitely as good as Anzu was in its heyday, perhaps even better. The regular pork loin katsu below arrived first, and it was extremely soft and tender. When you add that tiny dash of hot mustard on the side to go with the sauce and rice, the mix of flavours and textures is simply unbeatable.

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The kurobuta katus came second and it was also very good for a fillet katsu — which typically have more “bite” than the pork loin. No complaints though about the flavour, the juiciness of the pork itself and the crunchiness of the crumb coating. The miso soup and pickled sides were cherries on top of a very satisfying meal.

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Lastly, as part of the meal set, an orange juice (not freshly squeezed though) and a surprisingly nice cheese cake.

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My only gripe was that the cake came with a fork that was very difficult to use as it would splinter the cake into tiny pieces. Price-wise, it was very reasonable,  just a shade under NT$900 for two people.

Overall, one of the best if not the best katsu restaurants I’ve sampled in Taiwan. Katsusei is the real deal, and fans of Anzu should do themselves a favour and try this place out.

10/10

Details

Katsusei (勝勢)

Address: Level B2, Breeze Songgao, No. 16 Songgao Road, Xinyi District, Taipei (nearest MRT Taipei City Hall / Taipei 101 World Trade Center)

Phone: (02) 2722-0128

Hours: Sun-Wed 11:00-21:30; Thurs-Sat 11:00-22:00

Japanese Tonkatsu at Chitaka (Taipei)

January 24, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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Tonkatsu places are a dime a dozen in Taiwan, and often it’s difficult to separate one from the other. There are the best ones, like Anzu (review here), and the second-tier ones like Pin Tian (review here). I’d place Chikata, an old Japanese chain that has spread to Taiwan, as one of the better second-tier joints that supplements its very decent tonkatsu with excellent variety and extensive meal sets.

There are now 10 Chitaka outlets in Taiwan, and the one we went to was the now-closed two-storey store near the Japanese district on Zhongshan North Road, about a 5-minute walk from the Zhongshan MRT station. But fear not — there is another one not too far away, also on Zhongshan North Road near the Regent Hotel.

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As expected, Chitaka offers both of the two main types of tonkatsu — the hire (pork fillet) and the rosu (pork loin). Each set comes with an appetizer, unlimited rice and cabbage and miso soup (from NT$240), or you can upgrade it to add a chawanmushi (steamed cup), dessert and beverage (from NT$280). They also have this special type of “layered” katsu which is essentially the same thing, except the meat is packed from layers upon layers of thin pork, and you can choose varieties that also add cheese into the mix.

Unlimited cabbage, with unlimited sauce...

Unlimited cabbage, with unlimited sauce…

In addition, they have other seafood katsu meals that use fish fillets and prawns, or you can choose a surf and turf combo that combines pork katsu with seafood. Of course there is also curry katsu, but what Chitaka also has that many other places might not is hotpot, in particular sukiyaki. I personally thought it was a little strange but I suppose it’s pretty good for winter, or if people prefer something soupy to the dry katsu. They even have stuff like unagi (eel) or oyaoko don (egg and chicken) dishes for people are who so inclined. Interestingly, there is no chicken katsu.

These were the sets we ordered.

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Tonktatsu set with a unagi don

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Oyako don set with soup udon

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Curry katsu set with soup udon

As you can see, you do get a lot of variety, but the katsu itself does not look amazing, and the serving size is relatively small. The taste is decent, not extraordinary — the crunch from the bread crumbs is there, but it doesn’t have that super crispiness and juiciness of the top tier katsu, though it isn’t dry and hard either like the crap places. It’s somewhere in the middle.

Having said that, Chitaka is a place I wouldn’t mind going back to. You do get a lot of options to choose from, there is great variety, and the prices are fair. It’s not a bad place for a casual lunch or gathering.

7.5/10

Details

Chitaka (知多家)

Website (Chinese only): http://www.chitaka.com.tw/

Address: No. 31, Lane 45, Section 2, Zhōngshān North Rd, Zhongshan District, Taipei (nearest MRT Zhongshan, red line)

Phone: +886 2 2562 3644

Katsu Kura (Kyoto) — the best katsu ever!

April 8, 2013 in Best Of, Food, Japan, Reviews, Travel

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Those crazy Japanese and their fake food…

I am not a bragging man, but let it be known that I have had my fair share of tonkatsu, essentially a Japanese pork cutlet deep fried in bread crumbs. When people tell me of a good tonkatsu joint, anywhere in the world, I go and eat. It’s that simple.

Last month, the missus and I went back to Kyoto, the place where we first met as wide-eyed exchange students more than 10 years ago, for a brief anniversary holiday. The entire trip, I am unashamed to proclaim, was built around restaurants we wanted to try and mostly, re-try. Towards the top of that list was Katsu Kura (かつくら), the place where we first fell head over heels in love…with katsu.

Katsu Kura is a Japanese franchise that has at least three stores I know of in Kyoto (there are actually five). The most convenient one for tourists is located on level 11 of The Cube, a mall stacked on top of Kyoto Station, and that is the one we went to.

Given its unwavering popularity, expect at least a brief wait on most nights. The restaurant at The Cube is relatively small but crammed with a lot of tables.

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Inside Katsukura at The Cube

Their menu is relatively simple. They have an assortment of different katsu, priced according to the size, type and quality of the pork. From what I understand, the pork loin (ロース, or rosu) has more fat and is thus more tender, while the pork fillet (ヒレ, or hire) is a little tougher but healthier. Of course, I went for the loin. The missus’s favourite is not their pork, but their chicken katsu, which I admit is the best I’ve had anywhere. For those who don’t eat land animals, there are also some seafood options, such as prawns and crab croquettes.

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Grind your own sesame seeds

When you order katsu, you get a bowl of fragrant sesame seeds, which you grind yourself while you wait for the chefs to prepare the meal. Regular visitors of katsu restaurants are probably familiar with this tradition now, but 10 years ago it was a bit of a novelty. As you can see above, they provide an English explanation of how what sauces there are to mix with the ground sesame.

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Sauces!

Part of what makes Katsu Kura so unbeatable is its sauces, which I believe are better than most.

Each table comes with a tray of different sauces. One of them is yuzu dressing for the unlimited shredded cabbage, which I can have truckloads of because it tastes so good. The other two sauces can be mixed with the sesame — the larger one is the original, and the best, while the smaller one is spicy for those who like a bit of a kick. The tiny white one is hot yellow mustard, which is a must-add for me.

Oh, and the rice and miso soup (not pictured) are unlimited too, so keep eating. We did.

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Say hello to chicken katsu

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Pork loin

The chicken katsu was as good as I remembered it. So was the pork loin. The magic of Katsu Kura is that the food does not feel very oily, even though it is deep fried. You won’t get that disgusting, dripping oil look with their stuff, so you won’t get sick of it. The outside is so incredibly crispy, while the inside is so ridiculously soft and juicy. The cabbage and the rice help balance the meats, and the sauces perfect the meal. It’s amazing, I tell ya.

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We ordered two types of prawns, a normal and a jumbo.

In hindsight, we probably shouldn’t have ordered the prawns as well, as good as they were. It was just a very huge meal, and the extras just killed off any realistic chance of enjoying some dessert. For those who didn’t get enough, you can always try a takeaway tonkatsu sandwich. They looked awesome but there was no way we could fit any more in. Maybe next time.

Price-wise, we’re talking around about 1,400 yen-1,700 yen or so for a set, and if you get extras like we did, you’re probably looking at about 2,000 yen a head. That’s a relatively cheap, but extraordinarily quality meal in Japan.

10/10

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Until next time…

Details:

Katsu Kura (かつくら)

Website (mainly Japanese): http://www.fukunaga-tf.com/katsukura/

Menu (with English and prices): http://www.fukunaga-tf.com/katsukura/menu.html

Locations (Japanese only): http://www.fukunaga-tf.com/katsukura/shop.html

Kyoto station store: Level 11 of The Cube (connected to the Isetan department store), open: 11am-10pm, phone: 075-365-8666

Main store: Kawaramachi Sanjo, open: 11am-9:30pm (10pm Saturdays), phone: 075-212-3581

Teramachi store: Teramachi Shijo, open: 11am-10pm, phone: 075-221-5261

Anzu Japanese Tonkatsu (Taipei)

January 3, 2012 in Best Of, Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

The exterior of the store in B1 of Hankyu

Tonkatsu places are a dime a dozen in Taiwan, and most of them are decent without being exceptional.  For me, having lived in Japan and sampled some of the best katsu the world has to offer, it’s particularly difficult to find one that can satisfy my desires.  And so I just had to visit Anzu (杏子日式豬排餐廳), a Kyushu-originated joint, reportedly one of the best tonkatsu restaurants in Taiwan.

On a busy evening we went to the new store in the Hankyu Department Store near the Taipei City Hall MRT station.  There was already a line at 5pm, and we didn’t manage to secure a seat until 5:30.  Even though it was too early to be hungry I was excited because long lines usually equated to good food.

Like most other tonkatsu places these days, Anzu offers unlimited cabbage, rice and miso soup to go with your katsu order.  Of course, there is also the grind-it-yourself sesame seeds which you add the thick tonkatsu sauce to.  Each table offers two types of salad dressings — creamy lavender and tangy yuzu.  Both were pretty good.  Something different was the pickled radish strips, which was salty but went well with the rice.

As usual, we ordered a tonkatsu (pork) and a chicken katsu.  There is quite a variety of pork, and the higher the price the better the quality.  Ordinarily, I would have just gone with the regular priced version, but what I have come to realise over the years is that the better quality pork really does taste better, so I went with a more expensive one.

The tonkatsu set

I am glad to report that Anzu delivers.  The bread crumbs on the outside are crispy but not so thick that it allows them to skimp on the meat.  In fact, the meat is fat and juicy — succulent, is what it is.  That said, as tender and flavoursome as it is, it did not come across as particularly oily, even though it is deep fried.  That’s the sign of a good tonkatsu.  Squeeze a bit of lemon on top.  Scoop a dash of tangy mustard seeds or hot mustard sauce.  Then dip into the sweet tonkatsu sauce with fragrant crushed sesame seeds.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

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Close up of the chicken katsu

The chicken katsu was also sublime.  Usually the chicken takes a back seat to the pork, but not at Anzu.  The miso soup was also a surprise hit.  No wonder the place is so popular.  Sure the tonkatsu is great, but the rest of the sides are pretty good too.  It’s the total package.

I’ll be going back again.

9 out of 10!

Details:

Anzu Japanese Tonkatsu (杏子日式豬排餐廳)

Website: http://anzu.com.tw/

Branches:

Technology Building Store — No. 2, Lane 271, Section 2, Fuxing South Road, Daan District; Phone: (02) 2701-0298;  Nearest MRT: Technology Building Station (Brown Line)

Songjian Nanjing Store — No. 63, Section 2, Nanjing East Road, Jhongshan District; Phone: (02) 2537-3767; Nearest MRT: Songjian Nanjing Station (Brown Line)

Hankyu Store — Level B1, Hankyu Department Store, No. 8, Section 5, Zhongxiao East Road; No phone reservations; Nearest MRT: Taipei City Hall (Blue Line)

Fuxing SOGO Store — Level 10, Fuxing SOGO Department Store, corner of Zhongxiao East Road and Dunhua South Road; No phone reservations; Nearest MRT: Zhongxiao Fuxing (Blue Line)

Pin Tian Japanese Style Katsu and Curry (Taipei)

December 1, 2011 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

Nothing gets me going like a plate of crunchy Japanese katsu (fried meat covered with bread crumb batter) and some fat, fluffy Japanese rice.

There are plenty of Japanese style katsu and curry places in Taiwan, but you never really know what you’re going to get because they all look the same from the outside.  Having tried a fair share of katsu over the years, including in Japan (where it’s just heavenly), I feel like I am in a position to determine what is good katsu and what isn’t.

Recently we tried a popular chain called Pin Tian (品田牧場), which is part of the same group as Yuan Shao, Ju Hokkaido Help Hotpot and Tasty (click on the names for my reviews).  All of these are quality restaurants (though I’d rate some higher than others), which naturally raised my expectation of Pin Tian.

In the tradition of those other restaurants, Pin Tian is nicely fitted, clean and dimly lit, with overly-polite, well-trained waiters and menu sets that offer several courses, guaranteed to make you feel absolutely stuffed by the time you finish your dessert.

Pin Tian has two types of sets.  The discount ‘Koofuku’ set is NT$239 (+10% service charge) and is only available for lunch on weekdays.  It includes an appetiser and the choice of a main (tonkatsu or chicken katsu or curries, as well as some more ‘creative choices’, such as takoyaki (octopus) katsu, katsu rolls with egg, bacon, tomato, etc, ginger pork, tempura prawn and salted fish).  Each set also comes with unlimited shredded cabbage, unlimited rice, miso soup, chawan mushi (egg custard), pickles and apple vinegar (to ‘cleanse the palette’).

The regular ‘Genki’ set is NT$299 (+10% service charge), and is essentially the same except you also get a dessert (sesame ice cream, mousse and milk pudding) and a beverage (tea, coffee or special Japanese drinks).

Perhaps to imitate Japanese katsu restaurants, Pin Tian also starts off by giving everyone a bowl with some sesame seeds which you crush yourself and mix with the special katsu sauce (Japanese Worcestershire) on your table.  I don’t know why but I always like it.  Maybe it’s because the sesame smells so good.

The other thing I love about Pin Tian is their sesame sauce which goes with the cabbage, also readily available on your table.  It’s freaking awesome and I had about four refills of the cabbage because of it.

On this day, we ordered three sets (one Genki set).  The appetiser was two small rice paper rolls with a vinegary dressing.  Light, tangy and fresh.

The mains were the pork waist fillet tonkatsu (less fatty), the tonkatsu curry and the crispy chicken curry.  Check them out below.

The Tonkatsu Set

The Curry Tonkatsu Set

Here's a close up of the Chicken Curry Set

For the dessert from the Genki set, we got the black sesame ice cream, and for the beverage, a Japanese genmai black bean green tea.

Now for the evaluation.  Pin Tian is pretty good from an overall perspective.  For a very reasonable price you get an appetising appetiser, a katsu main course, unlimited cabbage (with that superb sesame dressing) and rice, soup and other stuff.  The katsu itself is decent — better than the average non-Japanese katsu joints but not in the same league as a ‘true’ tonkatsu restaurant.  The curry is better than expected and goes very well with the fried meats.  For the average meal seeker it is more than good enough, though if you are specifically after top notch katsu there should be better options available.

8 out of 10!

Details

Pian Tian: Japanese Style Katsu and Curry (品田牧場)

Website: http://www.pintian.com.tw/index.htm (Chinese)

Opening Hours: 11:30-14:30, 17:30-22:00, 7 days a week

Price: NT$239-299 (+10% service charge)

Stores: http://www.pintian.com.tw/about.htm (Chinese)

Taipei locations:

Nanjing East Store
Level 2, 146 Section 2 Nanjing East Road, Taipei (02 – 2507-7279)
Nearest MRT: Songjian Nanjing (Exit 4)

Mingshen East Store
Level B1, 45 Section 4 Mingshen East Road, Taipei (02-2718-6566)
Nearest MRT: Songshan Airport (Exit 3)

Banqiao Store
Level 2, 7 Section 1  Zhongshan Road, Banqiao (02-2964-2661)
Nearest MRT: Fuzhong (Exit 1)