Learning to Love Tonkatsu at Yabu: House of Katsu
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I never order pork at restaurants and I have a passionate loathing for Megamall, so the last place you’d expect me to be is at the queue for a table at Yabu: House of Katsu in Megamall Atrium. Yet there I was, my stomach grumbling and my mouth watering, dying to sink my teeth into one of Yabu’s delectable katsu sets. My first visit to the restaurant happened upon the insistence of a friend, a fellow non-pork lover who told me it was very similar to a dish she tried in Korea. The pork tenderloin katsudon, she said, is so soft as to be un-porklike, and the rich tonkatsu sauce that comes with it is good enough to eat on its own. When I bit into the crispy goodness of my Hire tonaktsu, I became an instant convert of the cult of Yabu, and have braved the Megamall crowd to dine at the restaurant twice since then.
Yabu: House of Katsu opened their doors in October 2011, right when the katsu craze had Manila foodies craving for the crunch of fried pork cutlets. Unlike other restaurants, however, Yabu doesn’t serve breaded pork chop pretending to be Japanese. Their katsu products are authentic and includes an ultra-soft Kurobata katsu made from the “wagyu beef of pork”. But even the katsu made from local pork is so tender and perfectly fried with Yabu’s homemade panko breading that the quality is said to be comparable to Japan’s best tonkatsu restaurants.
Last week, Yabu successfully converted another non-pork eating diner – my mom. She’s probably the only person in the family who dislikes pork more than I do, not to mention that she doesn’t like eating out for fear of getting fat. I managed to convince her by swearing that this was the best pork I have ever tried, and if she doesn’t feel like eating tonkatsu, there’s always the seafood menu to choose from.
We started our meal with two appetizers – edameme, or lightly salted young soybeads still in the pod, and Hiyayakko tofu, silken tofu sitting in a puddle of tangy ponzu sauce and sprinkled with bonito flakes. The appetizers were barely enough to sate my grumbling stomach, but that was fine. I was reserving some room for the katsu feast that was to come.
A small textured bowl of sesame seeds with a pestle kept us busy while we waited for our meal to arrive. The idea is to grind the sesame seeds until they give off a rich, nutty aroma, then pour tonkatsu sauce into the bowl and use it as a dip for your katsu. Next to eating, grinding the sesame seeds is the most enjoyable part of the Yabu experience. Something about the act of swirling the pestle and watching the seeds turn into crumbs gives me a zen-like feeling of satisfaction.
Yabu’s best-selling menu item is the tonkatsu set, which comes in two variants – Rosu, or pork loin, and Hire, or pork tenderloin. Both sets feature 3/4 inch thick pork cutlets with a cup of miso soup, Japanese rice, unlimited cabbage with sesame dressing, and a bowl of fruit. What differentiates one from the other is the amount of fat they contain. Rosu comes with a thin trimming of fat, which makes it a popular choice, but I find that the lean Hire is just as juicy and tender (plus, there’s no icky risk of accidentally getting a mouthful of fat when you bite into it). The Hire tonkatsu set is what I always get when I go to Yabu, though after trying the seafood items, I think I might try something else when I return.
My mom took a bite of my Hire and loved it, but preferred Yabu’s new seafood selections. The seafood set comes with black tiger prawn, a delicious sliver of of Hiroshima jumbo oyster, Yabu’s new creamy crab, and two thick cuts of salmon. I prefer my oysters fresh, but trying the oyster katsu made me realize that I don’t mind them covered in panko and fried, either. The Hiroshima oysters come in a set of four, and I will likely get this the next time I return. If you’d rather stick to the tonkatsu items but would like a little seafood without having to eat a second meal, everything in this set is available in single servings on the ala carte menu.
During my first visit to Yabu, I wondered what the deal with the bottomless cabbage was. People come here for the meat, not the veggies, so what’s the point? The point, apparently, is the sesame dressing found on the table, which makes the flavorless cabbage ribbons taste heavenly when you let generous amounts rain down on it. Since I don’t eat rice, munching on the cabbage salad is a great way to change up the flavors and calm down my taste buds.
My mom and I were stuffed by the time the last panko crumb was devoured, but the meal wasn’t over. Yabu carries the most sinful little lava cake, topped with a generous helping of ice cream. The lava cakes come in chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry and is no more than three inches in diameter – the perfect size to top off a full meal. Though the lava cakes aren’t on the menu, there is lots of it to go around, and the brand manager tells me they’re developing a more extensive dessert menu that will be out in a few months. I can’t wait!
I never thought there would come a day where I would brave a crowded, oversized mall to get a fixing of fried pork. But the crunch of a Yabu katsu is so satisfying and delicious that all the stress involved in getting to Megamall becomes a distant memory once the steaming tray of food is in front of you. Plus, Yabu: House of Katsu will be opening a second branch at the Robinsons Magnolia Town Center near Gilmore come August, so I don’t even have to deal with the Megamall hassle the next time I need my Yabu fix.
For now, you can find Yabu at the 2/F Mega Atrium, SM Megamall Atrium. I highly recommend that you make reservations by calling 576-3900 because the place fills up fast, especially on weekends. To learn more about Yabu, visit their website at www.yabuhouseofkatsu.com, or like them on Facebook.