There are few dishes more satisfying than a good pork katsu — a deep-fried cutlet that’s lightly breaded and perfectly crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and all the better if it’s drowned in sweet Japanese curry or just served plain with a side of Tonkatsu sauce, sweet and thick.
Given that I’ll order pork katsu whenever I see it on a menu, I’ve sampled it in restaurants and hole-in-the-wall dives all over Manhattan and Asia.
And I’ve pretty much always had good experiences with the dish — well, that was true anyway, until, I went to the new Katsuhama on West 55th Street.
This new restaurant, which opened a few weeks ago, is the second outpost of
a place of the same name that’s temporarily closed.
And the second location
is in a good spot — perched above Menchanko Tei, one of the better ramen shops in New York, it must get some overflow business
from the popular noodle joint.
Our meal began promisingly enough — since katsu is the restaurant’s thing, we surmised that its pork dishes, generally, must be pretty good.
We started by sharing an order of the kurobuta kakuni appetizer ($9), a dish of berkshire pork simmered in a sweet soy sauce. (You can also get variations of this dish with egg or vegetables.)
The braised meat was falling-apart tender and yielded so much flavor that it literally tasted as if sweet soy sauce was oozing out of each bite as you chewed. Paired with a bowl of rice, this could be a perfect meal in itself.
We were determined to save ourselves for katsu, the star of the show, however…
After the kurobuta had been devoured, our excitement started to grow as the waitress emerged with a tray of condiments.
With our salad, she brought out not a little dish of onion-soy dressing but an entire bottle of it, encouraging us to use as much as we wanted.
She also brought out a little dish of sesame seeds with a tiny pestle, instructing us to crush the seeds and sprinkle that over our katsu. The moment we started crushing the seeds, you could really start to smell their toasty, nutty smell all around the table.
We also got a nice-sized bowl of Tonkatsu sauce, a gingery and sweet soy and Worcestershire sauce mixture, for dipping our Tonkatsu.
All this buildup was getting us more than a little worked up about seeing/eating that katsu.
Which was why we were a little disappointed when our curry katsu arrived — a large dish of rice with big glops of curry and … four measly pieces of pork katsu.
This was seriously blink-and-you’ll-miss-it meat. And at the price of $13, it was almost twice the cost of the average set meal at Go Go Curry, a consistently, amazingly good katsu place in Times Square that may well be the best version of the stuff that I’ve found in the city.
How did it taste? The curry was sweet and hearty and the katsu was nicely fried. Nothing special, overall.
The dish did suffer a little from the added bitter taste of having been slightly ripped off, however.
Our second katsu dish (pictured at the top) offered more meat, however — eight pieces for $20, including rice, salad and miso soup. The version we sampled came drizzled with salty miso sauce.
Again, this wasn’t bad. It was nicely fried but we felt the miso was a little extraneous. It didn’t add a lot to the dish. The sprinklings of sesame seeds did give the pork a lovely, nutty flavor, however.
As we wrapped up our meal, I started thinking about my last visit to Go Go Curry, in which we’d had a grand feast of two platters of rice topped with a massive hunk of katsu that was just soaked in curry — all for just under $15 total.
Since Katsuhama uses kurobuta pork in its dishes, I understand why its prices are quite a bit higher. But did using kurobuta pork elevate the dish or add anything new to the taste?
The next time I have a katsu craving, I know where I’m going.
Katsuhama, 43-45 W. 55th Street, 212.541.7145