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Archive for the ‘Japanese’ Category

Last week, P was craving udon and a quick search brought us to the Causeway Bay Branch of Butagumi Tonkatsu. It’s actually a restaurant which specializes in pork cutlets deep-fried in Japanese breading, panko, and that was fine with us. Udon and katsu? Yummy. A little research after our visit revealed there is a Butagumi in Tokyo which serves haute tonkatsu, including Spanish Iberico ham tonkatsu (ohhhhhhh) but I haven’t figured out if they’re related (for more information on that restaurant and tonkatsu, check out this excellent write-up from food blogger Tomostyle). My guess is perhaps not, since the photos of that place look very different from the restaurant we went to.

In any case, our experience at Butagumi Tonkatsu was very positive, starting from when we first walked in and were seated in one of their many semi-private dining areas.

The menu was as informative as it was functional, as the first two pages were devoted to the ingredients essential to tonkatsu. It was all in Chinese, so I definitely missed out on the full explanations, but it definitely made me feel like this was a restaurant that took its food seriously. A good sign. And actually, hearty kudos go to our waiter, who seemed like a student in his mid-twenties, who had great English and patiently explained each portion of our meal, and all the acoutrements.

P ordered a A + B set, in which you choose a tonkatsu selection and a deep-fried seafood dish, along with a side of udon and salad. I got the stewed pork udon, which came highly recommended, as the adorable tonkatsu men on the menu indicated.

Our waiter first brought out a bowl of toasted sesame seeds and a pestle. He explained that once the tonkatsu comes out, we simply had to crush the seeds to release the flavors and pour in some of the thick, brown tonkatsu sauce for a dipping sauce.

Then our orders came out. Mine was first, a giant, piping-hot stone pot of udon. There were bits of seaweed, corn, bamboo shoots, and gorgeous marbled pork. The broth was a bit fishy, but overwhelmingly porky, having soaked up all the flavors of the slowly stewed pork. Lip-smackingly good. The udon was a bit softer than I’d like, so that’d be a point for improvement. The pork was the highlight: It fairly dissolved in my mouth, alternate chews of lean meat and the slippery sensation of fatty pork belly. Mmmm. We also got the gyoza, which were surprisingly crunchy on the outside. I’d definitely order those again.

P’s set was served with the requisite shredded lettuce, which was a wonderful antidote to the fried cutlet. The lettuce came with bottomless refills. I loved the citrus dressing (the bottle with the red top) that had a hint of orange and lemon. The pork cutlet itself was moist on the inside, crunchy on the outside. Panko is great for keeping the texture, and they must have had a high-quality fryer (the machine or a technically skilled person) to achieve this consistency. I didn’t have any of the shrimp, but P assured me they were delicious as well.

All in all, we had a great experience at Butagumi Tonkatsu. The service was friendly, the cutlet was crisp, and the pork belly was delightful. I would highly recommend this place for anyone looking for tonkatsu in Hong Kong. There were also katsu sandos on display outside the restaurant, so I’ll definitely have to come back for lunch and get one as well…

Butagumi Tonkatsu
7/F, The Goldmark, 502 Hennessy Road
3428 2862
Cost: ~ $100-120/person 

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All right, so I know the Japanese word “yakitori” refers primarily to chicken on a skewer, but nowadays, I think it means any kind of food on a skewer, Japanese-style, right? (If anyone knows, please feel free to comment!) Nevertheless, for me, it just means “splendid!” and I was really happy last week when P made reservations at Nan Tei, which I’d heard of from W and G. It’s a chain robotayaki/yakitori eatery and while there are four locations in Hong Kong, word on the street is, the one in Soho (which we visited) is supposed to be the best. It’s a tiny restaurant with a ring of bar stools around the main grilling station and a few tables scattered about. P said it reminded him of the small Japanese joints he visited while backpacking in Kyoto.

When we sat down, we were immediately given a plate with natural salt and a dipping sauce. It didn’t seem like the usual tare sauce (a sauce of mirin, soy sauce, and sake) that yakitori is served with; this sauce was more dense, kind of like a savory bean paste.

Our place settings at Nan Tei

We promptly ordered a ton of dishes, and eyed the grilling station hungrily.

The grillmaster at work

Approximately 10 minutes and the arrival of one Asahi (for P) and edamame (for me) later, our skewers started coming out!

Unwinding from a long day

Love these little buggers

The first batch of our order to come up were the mushrooms – we ordered regular shiitake mushrooms and also mushrooms stuffed with chicken. The regular mushrooms had just the right texture – soft but not mushy – and when dipped into the natural salt, they were divine! The minced chicken grilled on top of the mushrooms were also a hit, with the minced meat softer than I would have imagined for chicken.

Grilled mushrooms

Chicken-stuffed mushrooms - YES. In the corner you can see some of the Japanese rice we ordered - plump, slightly sticky, and fully delicious.

Afterwards, our grilled corn came out. It was sprinkled with salt and spread with butter, like corn on the cob from a 4th of July cookout. As you can see blow, some kernels were a bit more chargrilled than others, giving it a smoky taste. Such a great throwback.

Grilled corn

Then came the grilled rice balls. I was really curious when I saw these on the menu as I’ve never heard of anything like this before. However, after doing some research, I learned that “yaki onigri”, as it’s called in Japanese, is so popular in Japan that you can find it frozen in many supermarkets, like frozen pizza. It’s food on the go, kind of like a simple rice sandwich, if you will. The rice is brushed with a mixture of mirin, soy sauce, oil, and sesame seeds, and it can be stuffed with a variety of things. P ordered his stuffed with eel and I got mine with sour plum. When they came out, I loved the crisped rice on the surface. I ate my “ball” (they actually looked like little hearts – so cute!) wrapped in seaweed, and loved the salty contrast of the nori with the sweetness of the plum. There was a little bit of sharp, sour saltiness to my plum as well.

A Japanese "sandwich"

My favorite of the evening was the beef tenderloin. I have no idea how the grillmasters managed to keep an eye on all of the skewers under their care, but somehow, the beef was the most gorgeous medium, sprinkled with freshly ground pepper and seasoned to perfection. I would have eaten four of these by myself, easy!

We gave the beef tenderloin four thumbs up (two from each of us, of course)

We ordered a slew of other skewers as well, but these were definitely the highlights. Both P and I walked away from our seats fully stuffed (and this was after we’d canceled our order for udon).

To sum up, I’d definitely recommend Nan Tei for a casual, fun night with small plates and big flavors. The best part is, since each order typically has two skewers, you can try a little of everything even if you come with just one other person (or, by yourself…as I’m seriously considering). So, if anyone reading this wants to go, give me a shout anytime!

Nan Tei
55 Staunton Street
2559 6221
Cost: ~ $250/person

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One symptom, I think, of being a “foodie” is an almost obsessive-compulsive need to research every eatery you will ever visit. And while I haven’t yet figured out if being called a “foodie” is a good label or a bad one (or whether I fit into that category, no less), I will concede that I spend a fair amount of time googling restaurants and their subsequent reviews.

Last Sunday, P challenged me again to lay off the internet searches and simply find a restaurant the old-fashioned way: walking around. That’s how we found ANA Sushi in Causeway Bay. We were looking for something Japanese (and CWB is definitely a great place to do it!), looked up at a tall building on Lockhart Road, and realized there were tons of options inside. I don’t know what prompted P to pick 5th floor, but I’m glad he did because we found one of my favorite reasonably-priced sushi places to date.

I didn’t know it at the time, but ANA Sushi is just one branch of the ANA group, which also has an oyster bar (on a different floor of the same building), and the recently opened ANA Gura in Central (with a chef who previously worked at Inagiku). We loved ANA Sushi so much we visited a second time, just a week later.

After exiting the elevator, we stepped over large black square stones scattered around smooth dark pebbles into a dimly lit dining room. There were tables of various sizes on the left and the right sides, with a long sushi bar at the front. On our second visit, we also noticed a private tatami room.

Place setting at ANA Sushi

The service was fairly good, with wait staff functional in Putonghua and English in addition to their native Cantonese. (I will emphasize the “functional” part – don’t expect fluent English by any means.) Both times we were at ANA Sushi, we decided to create our own “tasting menu” of sorts by ordering an assortment of both their raw and cooked foods.

I think their sushi rolls are of some the best in HK at this price. The vinegared rice is actually flavorful by itself, as is the nori. The first time we got the California (standard, right?) and the second time, we got the spicy scallop and fried shrimp salad rolls.

The spicy scallop rolls

P actually considered the spicy scallop rolls his favorite out of all the dishes we ordered. I didn’t notice much “spice” in it, but then again, I’m used to eating four-alarm pho. My favorite parts of the dish, incidentally, were the toasted sesame seeds which added texture and taste.

Fried shrimp salad roll (I couldn't taste much "salad' in here, but oh well)

I really liked these shrimp salad rolls because the breading was awesome! Light and crispy, just perfect.

Then came the edamame, nicely steamed and salted. Afterwards we had the sirloin teppanyaki. Originally we ordered the teppanyaki beef with mushrooms, but it turns out they were out of beef slices. After a lengthy discussion in pidgin English with our waitress, we discovered that the beef with mushrooms actually involved beef slices wrapped around enoki mushrooms, which is why she was confused by our request to get the mushrooms with sirloin steak, as she was envisioning mushrooms sandwiched between diced beef. Once we worked out that we just wanted mushrooms on the side, she was happy to put in the order (again, I must emphasize the functional English at ANA Sushi, but hey – it gets the job done. The waitress was really sweet about it, at least!).

Teppanyaki sirloin with enoki mushrooms

The enoki mushrooms were nice, and while the sirloin was tasty, it was a bit overcooked for my taste. Last time we were here, we ordered the mixed mushroom teppanyaki, which I would definitely recommend. The shiitake mushrooms were especially bursting with umami flavor, and it was great value for money. The other hot dish we ordered the first time was the beef fried rice, which I would also suggest. The rice is plump but a little bit crispy, which was delicious. I’d get that again.

The other two dishes we ordered the second time we visited were the handmade udon noodles with pork and the grilled chicken with miso paste. They were both all right, though nothing to write home about, IMHO. The noodles were interesting, a bit thinner than I normally see them, but the broth was yummy. Every now and then little bits of green onions would float onto my spoon and the crunch was fresh and exquisite.

The grilled chicken was a bit greasy for my taste, but the miso-paste added a sweet/savory flavor that P loved. He picked those bones like a hound dog beggin’ for scraps under the table (I hope he doesn’t read this).

Handmade udon noodles with pork

Grilled chicken with miso paste

So in conclusion, while there were some dishes the second time that I wouldn’t order again, I wouldn’t classify anything as an actual “miss.” I do believe ANA Sushi is a great place for sushi and sashimi, as well as fried rice and teppanyaki dishes (next time I hope to try the beef with mushrooms dish the way it’s meant to be made!). I’ll definitely be coming back, hopefully with enough friends in tow (and enough advance notice) to get that cool tatami room.

ANA Sushi
5/F, Kyoto Plaza, 491-499 Lockhart Road
2511 1110
Cost: ~$200+/person

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