Although the two districts are mostly known for the boutiques and clubs, the area between Shibuya and Harajuku is littered with lots of great restaurants. I realized the other day that I haven’t gone for tonkatsu yet, basically deep fried pork. It sounds simple but there’s a big difference between doing it well and making it terribly. The batter has to be light and crispy, the oil has to be the correct temperature as if it is too cold, you’re boiling the food and making it far too oily. Too hot and the oil burns the outside while the inside is still cold.
Although Maisen almost exclusively serves tonkatsu (as well as a few other things in case porks not your bag, baby), it is a bit of a chain restaurant and you might even see stands in the bottom floors of shopping malls selling tonkatsu as part of a bento or by themselves. Personally, I’d rather eat at the many family-owned and operated, smaller restaurants in Tokyo but after a long day (and failing to find the other place I wanted to try out), I decided to give Maisen a try.
If you don’t read Japanese, it might be a bit difficult to order. Yes, while there are pictures abound on the menu, they all look pretty much the same. Fried something with a small salad, rice and miso soup at varying prices. There are pretty much only two things you seriously need to know: rosu katsu is the regular pork cutlet while hire katsu is the lean cut with less fat (and as such, probably less flavor). There’s different variations on the menu but if you’re a foreigner, just say either one to the very friendly waitresses and they’ll know what you’re on about.
I ordered the rosu katsu set, which comes with a generous portion of tonkatsu, a salad, a bowl of rice, some picked radish and a miso soup. The tonkatsu is light and crispy and the only hint of oiliness comes from the flavorful fat in the pork itself. There are a variety of condiments you can use, including a thick, Worcestershire-like sauce that is mostly just known as “tonkatsu sauce” and karashi, a strong Japanese mustard. I especially enjoyed the mustard but be careful with it…it’s really strong and spicy. I would’ve liked a slice of lemon but didn’t exactly know how to ask for it.
Maisen has a couple other branches but the one I went to is located at 4-8-5 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku which is near Omotesando. It’s a very interesting location as I’m told the building used to be a bathhouse. Overall, it isn’t the best tonkatsu I’ve ever had. I remember a place I went to the last time I came here where they give you a mortar and pestle to grind up various seeds to add to your sauce, giving it a different flavor, that had a great tonkatsu but I can’t seem to remember where it is. Either way, Maisen is definitely above average and very good even though I wasn’t completely blown away like I was at Sushi Dai or Kaikaya. I would still recommend it to all you carnivores out there.