Izakaya Katsu - Legendary Japanese Cuisine Dazzles Behind the Green Door
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
Izakaya Katsu, located on the 3rd Floor of Tumon's Central Plaza Bldg., has established a reputation as one of Guam's hot spots for great Japanese food. It's been almost 2-1/2 years since my last review of Katsu, a.k.a.., "the Green Door", a curious alias attributed by the fact that this converted Mah Jong parlor has two green doors, both serving as entrances and exits, with one facing San Vitores, and the other serving as a welcoming landmark for those who ascend the three stories inside the parking garage. Although this latter door has remained relatively unchanged in the five years since I first visited Izakaya Katsu, the immediate area surrounding the door has evolved into an exterior art gallery, blending traditional Japanese sake barrels with floral stained glass, lacquered driftwood, a large shrub's skeletal remains painted in bright colors, looking like some sort of underwater coral formation, and some other miscellaneous collectibles that seem to be laying there awaiting a purpose.
All of this eye candy is just a taste of what you'll see once inside, which happens to be a repository of eclectic art and souvenirs gathered by Katsu's chef/owner, Takeshi Soma, during his travels. It also relects his dual passions, art and food, both over which he has achieved a soul-satisfying mastery. This review took place on two occasions within this past week, the first was during a bustling Saturday night when I was joined by Dr. Jonathon Morris, who was on his annual visit to Guam from Maine's Portland Medical Center, and the second visit was a slower-paced Wednesday night. Jon and I were having our annual "Green Door" dinner, a tradition which has been followed on each of his visits for the past four years, ever since his wife Suzan discovered my first Green Door review while searching the internet from Maine. (Photo L-R: Dr. Morris, Yohko Soma, GFG)
Both nights offered totally different dining experiences, with the second evening's meal being the most relaxed, as well as one that allowed Soma-san to share a few of his special creations made for counter denizens. Although we were seated at the counter on Saturday, it wasn't until Wednesday that I was the recipient of Soma's experimental dishes.
If you have not been to Katsu, the things you must try are the famous Grilled Tofu Steak ($10) and the Fried Shrimp ($14). The Tofu Steak is firm tofu lightly floured then grilled to crisp the outside, then drizzled with a flavorful miso/mirin sauce, and sprinkled with grated ginger, green onions, sake, pepper, and bonito flakes. It is a marvelous, unique creation that meat lovers and vegetarians enthusiastically enjoy. Even those who don't usually eat tofu appreciate Katsu's version. The Shrimp is coated in panko crumbs and deep-fried perfectly, leaving no evidence of grease nor oil. It comes with a tartar salad made fresh by Soma-san that's good enough to eat alone. Both the Tofu Steak and Shrimp are available at lunch in smaller portions that are priced accordingly.
We also shared a Tomato & Cheese Salad ($10) which is a stimulating blend of fresh romaine, onions, tomatoes, capers, mozzarella cheese, and parmesan cheese, with a Japanese vinaigrette dressing. This actually preceded the Tofu Steak and Shrimp. Our last entree was the Grilled Saba (Pickled Mackerel, $12). This oily, white-meat fish was cooked just right and we squeezed a local lemon over it along with some shoyu, and immediately entered "food heaven" with our first bites. We usually order the Grilled Eel (Unagi, $18, which is one of Katsu's renowned specialties) but opted for the Saba instead. As is our annual custom, we have Takeshi's wife, Yokho, join us for a photo-op. Yokho can be easily spotted from a distance because she has colorized her short hair with purple accents. She has an ebullient personality which makes her an endearing hostess.
My Wednesday dinner allowed me to try the Tomato Salad ($8.50) and the Fried Shrimp with Egg on Rice ($12, and a shrimp alternative for the more popular pork version called Katsu-don, making this one Ebi-don). Since I was alone, I went straight to the counter rather than the booth where I met my good friend Stanley Miller of Stanlee's who was dining with Tina, a family friend from Japan. I shared some of my tomatoes with them...I couldn't help it - these were extraordinarily sweet tomatoes that had been skinned, quartered, and placed atop a bed of marinated sliced onions and cucumbers, and sprinkled with parsley flakes. Stanley & Tina later reciprocated my kindness by sharing their maguro tuna sashimi, which was splendid. The Ebi-don was really good, as it put Katsu's great fried shrimp atop a bowl of rice covered with onions stewed in a flavored broth, blended with fried egg, then covered with seaweed strips. I relished this dish, which came with miso soup and sliced daigo.
Chef Soma surprised me by serving sliced maguro sashimi that was shaped like a rose, each slice creating a thick red petal...totally cool. He said he used a wasabi vinaigrette dress this..wow! The plate was garnished with red peppercorns that were aromatic and sweet. The final dish Soma-san had me try was a bowl of Ikura (salmon roe), that he had specially prepared. I couldn't determine what he did to make this dish so fresh and almost sweet, but the fish eggs were excellent, and not as briny as some I've had before.
Izakaya Katsu has become a favorite place for many first-timers who have spread the word about the incredible food quality. In fact, they have a Rib-Eye Steak( as well as a T-Bone Steak, $29), that is reputed to be the best-tasting steak for the money. It actually has to do with Soma-san's special sauces and marinades..it's amazing what you can do with shoyu, mirin, lemon and garlic. I like sitting at the counter so I can watch NHK and occasionally observe Chef Soma working quietly and intensely over each dish, as though he is in a Zen trance.
As this is a small eatery, try to get here early or make reservations. They are open for lunch Monday - Friday, 11:30am-1:30pm, and for dinner Monday - Saturday from 6pm-9:30pm. Their phone number is 646-0247. Come to Izakaya Katsu to enjoy one of Guam's most intriguing dining spots, where you can discover for yourself the secrets of what lies beyond "the Green Door"!