Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Good Eats: Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin / Breaded, Deep-Fried Pork Cutlet

If you want authentic Japanese tonkatsu, check out Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin, the only authentic tonkatsu restaurant in Hawaii.  What is tonkatsu?  Tonkatsu is Japanese breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet.  The cutlet is about one inch thick, lightly seasoned, dredged in flour, egg, and panko flakes before frying.  It's crunchier than "regular" fried pork chops because of the panko flakes and a rack.  At this restaurant, the cutlet has its own rack on a plate to keep it crunchy and full of flavor without getting soggy.  

Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin is located at 255 Beach Walk right by the Outrigger Regency Hotel.  You can call ahead for reservations or take-out at 808-926-8082.  Walking, taxi, or valet parking are highly recommended because there is no street parking on this narrow one way street.  Hours are Monday thru Thursday from 11:00 am to 9:30 pm, Friday from 11:00 am to 12:00 am, Saturday from 11:30 to 12:00 am, and Sunday from 11:30 am to 11:30 pm.

Walking through the door is like walking into Japan.  This is a small restaurant with about 10-12 tables and a bar.   It gets crowded here, we had to wait about 15 to 20 minutes for a table.     

The menu is simple, because it's all about the pork cutlet here.  They also serve jumbo tiger prawns, chicken, and croquettes, but the main attraction here is the pork.  This isn't the whole menu, just some of the highlights, like the kurobuta pork loin.  And what is kurobuta pork?  In Japanese, Kuro means black and buta means pig and is the equivalent of kobe beef for pork.  Like kobe beef, kurobuta pork has a high fat content and heavily marbled meat (Want know more about kobe beef?  Check out the post for Yakiniku Hiroshi, a restaurant that serves kobe beef).  The high fat content gives the meat its rich flavor, juiciness, and tenderness.  Kurobuta actually traces it's roots back to the British House of Windsor, in the county of Berkshire.  The oldest breed of pig was a gift from British nobility to Japan.   

They even give you a small mortar and pestle to grind your own sesame seeds.  Fresh ground sesame seeds are like fresh ground peppercorns, it's flavorful and intense.  This is a key part of the tonkatsu sauce, but more on that later.  

And the main event.  The tonkatsu kurabota pork loin, which is one of the best cuts of meat.  As is customary, the meal includes a cabbage salad and miso soup (the black bowl on the right).  Behind the miso soup is the salad dressing and small plate of tsukemono (pickled vegetables).  Of course, a bowl of rice is included in the meal.    

To go along with the meal, each table has a tray of spices.  Here you have spicy mustard, ground red pepper (the wood shaker), natural (pink) sea salt, and the house tonkatsu sauce.  The salt is self-explanatory, the other spices require some instruction.  

The ground red pepper is for your miso soup.  Take the wood stopper out and add a small shake to give your soup a touch of heat.  

The house tonkatsu sauce is key to properly seasoning your tonkatsu.  You're suppose to drop 5 scoops of tonkatsu sauce into your ground sesame seeds.  

Spoon some hot mustard on the side of your plate.  Use that to put a small dab of hot mustard on your tonkatsu, then dip it in the tonkatsu sauce infused with ground sesame seeds.  Don't use too much hot mustard or as the waiter said, "It will make you cry".  The spiciness of the mustard combines well with tonkatsu sauce and ground sesame seeds.  All that blends beautifully with the crunchy outside and juicy inside of the tonkatsu.

Look at that fried pork goodness.  The pork cutlet is cooked evenly, has a nice crunch on the outside, and is very juicy on the inside.  

And don't forget to get a good drink to wash that down.  I can recommend this place for the authenticity, experience, and good flavors.  However, I will say that someone else (who shall not be named) who has eaten in Ginza, Japan said that it is not the same.  I will leave that up to you to decide.  And what better way to decide, than to come to the restaurant and try it out.  

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