Tonkatsu Tamafuji

The discussion the other day on where to eat for dinner came up with tonkatsu, and our go to is Menchankotei on Keamoku. Their signature item is menchanko nabe, but their tonkatsu is excellent. However, I got curious and did a net search and discovered this place, Tonkatsu Tamafuji, been getting the buzz. It’s a Hokkaido chain that opened on Kapahulu Ave. a little more than a year ago. Glowing reviews, and warnings about the long waits. I ended up solo this past Thursday so decided in the name of research to chance it.

It’s in the space formally Hiroshimayaki, and going further back part of Sam Choys, and further you just have to say Hee Hing. I arrived around 6:30 and there were about a dozen people waiting already. I signed in and took a seat outside. It was actually a pleasant wait, watching the sunset over the Ala Wai golf course and listening to the cacophony of the flocks of parrots. The line moved pretty quickly and I was soon ushered in. The host and servers assumed I was native Japanese, but I couldn’t quite maintain the nihongo. They are well staffed and efficient, tables are quickly cleared, cleaned (including under the tables), and reset. Customers seated and orders taken.

I opted for their osusume, the standard 180g pork loin katsu set. You get a choice between white rice, a seasoned rice, and a five grain, and then a choice of tofu, or asari miso soup, red or white miso. I went with the 5 grain, which was seasoned with a hint of wasabi, and red asari miso soup. They also bring a tray with a trio of tsukemono, one a salted cabbage, another fukujinsuke, and third umeboshi. I’d like to see someone eat all the umeboshi and get a refill. The salted cabbage made for a good otsumami to go with my Kirin draft. After placing my order, I looked around. The dining area was remodeled with a bit more upscale décor than Hiroshimayaki. The cooking area didn’t look it had extensive remodeling.

They missed a little on the timing, my katsu came before the soup and rice, although they quickly remedied that. The miso soup was good, more than just to qualify as asari soup four pieces of little clam. The rice was quite nice, the hint of wasabi works well. The tsukemono was nothing special, good quality normal fare. The katsu came with two dressing for the cabbage, a sesame and the other a ponzu. I preferred the ponzu but both were good. To dress your katsu, there was two pots of sauce, the karakuchi was the more typical spicy salty tonkatsu sauce, the amakuchi was tangy and sweeter. You were also given a suribachi with sesame seed to grind up and add desired sauce to to dress your katsu. It was amusing to watch the millennials using the suribachi. It was obvious they never grew up in a household watching mom grind the goma for sukiyaki tare or saused horenso. They would take the pestle and tamp the seeds trying to pound them instead of grinding.

Onto the main attraction. The tonkatsu is wonderfully crisp breading, the pork tender and done where there is perfectly no pink in the thick cut. The cut of meat seems pretty lean, so there isn’t a whole lot of fat inclusions to amp up the meat. I’ve had some cuts at Menchako that did have some marbling fat in the cut, which made it pretty wonderful. But even with the lack of that, I couldn’t find fault here. It certainly is tender.

As a final rating I give it 4 out 4 katsu’d monkeys for the overall experience and value. The food isn’t OMG this is the bestest thing I’ve ever tasted. It certainly is good, but not head and shoulders above other tonkatsu I’ve had. But the service was excellent, you get all the little side extras, and the price is reasonable. I got done with beer and entrée for $30 inclusive of tip. The only downside is your clothes will suffer Japanese restaurant oil odor, and they don’t have desert. The menu selection is limited, but I take heart the do what you do, do it well.

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