Izakaya Katsu Restaurant
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
When I referred earlier to the gym being a clearinghouse for places to dine, I was told by fellow "workout-arians" Yuka Baba, Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood, Josephine Ada, and her Husband/fitness trainer and Senatorial Candidate, Tom, to try the "TOFU STEAK" at Katsu, better know as "THE GREEN DOOR" in Tumon. They also said there are many other items on the menu that are natural, healthy, good tasting and that I would really like it. Not wanting to do this alone, I asked one of them to join me, and Yuka graciously accepted. We decided to try lunch on Friday.
Located on the third floor of the Central Building (housing Asahi Duty Free Store) on San Vitores Road in Tumon, across the street from the Grand Hotel at the intersection of Happy Landing Road, this Japanese restaurant has been open for nearly three years, and is one of Guam's best kept secrets, as they are not listed in any of the restaurant guides nor Yellow Pages. And those locals who have been there don't refer to it as "Katsu"...they know it as "the Green Door", and when they say that, their faces light up in a beatific smile, as if to recall a special experience! They also "rave" about the Tofu Steak.
There's adequate room in the building's parking garage, and as you walk towards the entrance you're eyes are drawn by the decorated exterior-- a polished ifit(ironwood) wall sculpture, a red Japanese latern describing the dining experience, a sake barrel enshrined on a covered platform, and in the center of tiled marble, the famous and mysterious "green door"!
Once inside, you are welcomed in Japanese and are escorted to a table, or you can sit at the "bar" (typcial Japanese-style for small restaurants, inns, and taverns. ) There is a sushi case on one end of the bar, and regular customers, mostly local Japanese agents and business people, will sit here and read while eating, talk with friends, or watch NHK on a mounted TV. (There's also a large screen TV in the dining area).
Our lovely, smiling waitress, Yuki, sat us down, and took our drink orders. We decided on two items, the Tofu Steak ($8.00) and the Chicken Curry Cutlet ($7.00). I could not have asked for a better dining companion than Yuka. She was very helpful in explaining food preparation, ingredients, cooking styles, and translating descriptions. She is intelligent, well-traveled, is very health-conscious and knowledgeable about authentic Japanese food.
The "famous" Tofu Steak plate was placed in front of Yuka, accompanied by a bowl of miso soup, rice, and pickled "daigo"(radish). It was an impressive presentation, with the sizeable slab of grilled tofu covered by a mixture of scallions atop a secret sauce blend. The tofu was the firm type, and had been grilled in light flour that just crisped the exterior. The sauce was full of flavors, with grated ginger, sake, pepper, bonita flakes (dried tuna ground into a powder). Yuka shared a few pieces of this marvelous creation---good thing she's generous!! This is an amazing combination of foods, and aside from the fact that it was grilled, I consider it to be a healthy and satisfying alternative to any meat dish.
My Chicken Curry Cutlet was served on a bed of rice, with crisp, golden fried battered chicken pieces smothered in a spicy (pika) thick curry sauce, with shredded pickled daigo on the side. My first bite told me there was something unusual about this chicken's preparation. The breading was so crisp and crunchy, and the chicken was moist and tender. It was the Panko batter, Yuka explained, that made the difference in their cutlets here, as well as the method of frying them that kept the exteriors crisp and not soggy from absorbing grease. Really an exceptional cooking accomplishment!
Yokho Soma, the owner, soon arrived and joined us. She is an amazing lady, with an energy and vibrancy that makes her irresistably charming.She explained some of the other menu items, such as the Pork Cutlet Lunch Set and Fried Shrimp Lunch Set, that are each available for $10.00, and included salad, rice, and miso soup. The lunch menu items are limited, she said, however, it's during dinner that their true glory shines. (Well, if that wasn't a hint and a challenge to "the food guy", I don't know what is!)
So, in order to give a more complete representation of this establishment to my readers, I decided to return on Monday night for dinner(I switched my normal Sunday day off to do my review since they are closed Sundays). Katsu's lunch service is 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., Monday - Friday. They have a Mah-Jong room that is open from 11:00 am. 12:00 midnite. Dinner hours are 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., but it is recommended you order by 10:30 p.m. Call them for more information at 646-0247/48.
Yokho explained that "Katsu" means "to fight," "to win", "victory", and also "cutlet," a play on words that embraces their Mah Jong parlor with their eatery. Her husband, Takashi, was the restaurant's chef, and is the genius behind the creation of these fabulous dishes. His specialty is fried foods--- which is an art all unto itself. The right amount of flour (panko bread crumbs), oil, heated to an exact temperature, and fresh, hand-selected ingredients, are all part of a precise culinary ritual. Takashi, a quiet, soft-spoken man, has over 30 years cooking experience which started with a major hotel in Japan. He has been on Guam for 13 years. Takashi's genius extends beyond the kitchen to include wood-working skills--he has carved, sanded, and polished ironwood to create some impressive sculptures that are displayed on the walls (with some free-standing) of the restaurant. He is also a painter, and two of his Picasso renderings will catch your eyes with their dramatic colors and surreal imagery. His collection of model cars and trains line some room partitions and make interesting viewing.
Dinner on Monday was an extraordinary feast! Although I went to Katsu alone, I had the honor to be joined by a friend, Mito-san, from Micropac. As I said before, this is an authentic, home-style Japanese restaurant, and food items are prepared individually and with great pride and care. It is not a "fast food" restaurant. Eating here is about being here. It is a philosphy of enjoying oneself while dining well. The menus and menu board items are all in Japanese, so it's good to have a general idea about what you'd like to eat before you come (by this, I mean seafood, cutlets, or steaks).
I left the menu decisions to Yokho and Mito-san. I ordered "o-cha" (Japanese tea) with "mizu"(ice water) to start. The first item delivered was a Tomato and Cheese Salad. That's a total understatement, akin to calling a Mercedes-Benz a "car"! Huge, cubed chunks of red, full-flavored tomatoes were mixed in a combination of lettuce, grated cabbage, mozzarella wedges, parmesan, capers, and in a light oil, and all seasoned perfectly. This is one of their specialties, which you must have to appreciate, and it is priced at $6.50. Soon after, I was brought a dish containing six large slices of tuna sashimi. Mito told me that Katsu is famous for their sashimi, which he says is the freshest and of exceptional quality. No doubt about that---it was great! ($ 8.00 for this dish). While still savoring the bright red and firm sashimi, a plate full of fried oysters was placed before me. There were about eight big pieces, on a layer of shredded cabbage, with a lemon wedge, and a generous heap of what appeared to be tartar sauce. The first oyster I ate without anything on it----the panko batter and seasonings made this a fine discovery. The lemon added a zesty tang to the second oyster, and for the third, I decided to dip in some tartar sauce. Wow! This was no ordinary tartar sauce...it was more like a tartar salad!!! Home-made and filled with luscious ingredients, I was in awe of this chef's careful attention to detail and an obvious love and passion for food preparation. The Fried Oysters are $7.00.
While the oysters were being enjoyed, a platter arrived with a sizeable grilled Ribeye Steak, sliced atop a bed of sauteed carrots, onions, cabbage, and scallions. There were sauteed garlic slices all over the top of this steak, and as I tasted one, I was immediately aware that this was not ordinary garlic. Takashi had marinated these garlic slices for one year in soy sauce, giving them an incredible flavor I'd never before experienced. They didn't have the garlic aroma, but they did deliver a unique "soy/garlic" flavor. (Rib-eye Steak Dinner is $18.00/ the T-Bone Steak Dinner is $22.00).
By this time I had ordered an Asahi "biru" (beer), in keeping with the fact that by now I was in Japan and was subject to the customary rules and etiquette of my host's eatery! There is also a selection of fine wines, from Chardonnay's to Cabernets, from California to Australia, and are priced reasonably. I had truly thought I was finished after this steak was consumed, when I was shocked to see a plate arrive from over the counter with a preparation of seafood that Yokho said was compliments of the chef! It was a seafood carpaccio, which had shrimp, thinly-sliced marlin, salmon roe, capers, and onions in a light oil mix. I simply had no room for the ice cream that was offered.
The closing aperitif was a glass of chilled sake. It was a glorious end to a memorable dinner....my trip to Japan was coming to an end, and I will always cherish the vision of that "green door" when I dream of Katsu.
Domo arrigato-gozaimasu, Soma-san!