Meeting Patty for dinner in the theater district (something that’s happened at least once before) inevitably involves me bringing along Robert Sietsema’s “Food Lover’s Guide to the Best Ethnic Eating in New York City.” This book is the perfect pocket-sized carry along guide for young, adventurous eaters who want something cheap but exciting to nosh on in a particular neighborhood, especially if that neighborhood is notorious for tourist fare. Here, in midtown Manhattan, Patty and I stood in the lobby of a theater on 48th street deciding where to eat dinner before the show. [The show was a show I received free tickets to on the stipulation that I only blog about it if I liked it. And while I did like it, the audience didn’t–people left during it–and I feel conflicted telling you what show it was since I can’t, in good conscience, advocate a show I worry you won’t enjoy. Hope that’s ok free ticket people!] We opened to the index, dragged our finger down the list for Midtown restaurants and stopped at Katsu-Hama. Instantly we were transported:
Katsu-Hama was a few avenues east and one street down from the show we saw. What excited me most about Sietsema’s review was he gave it THREE stars. Most of the places I’ve enjoyed from this book have all been only one or two stars. What made this so great? Says Sietsema: “This authentic Japanese tonkatsu-ya does only one thing, but they do it spectacularly: thin pork cutlets breaded and deep-fried.” And though Patty is a pescatarian, she was calmed when she read his last sentence: “You can substitute chicken or shrimp for pork, but don’t expect it to be nearly as good.”
Before entering Katsu-Hama, we were vastly amused by one of their menus in the window. See if you can see why we found it amusing:
When was the last time you ate at a restaurant with gender-specific menus? Men’s set? Ladies’ set? And notice under “Ladies’ Set” it says “only women.” Why can “only women” eat shrimp katsu, crab meat croquette, and pork katsu on a skewer? What about my rights? “I’m going to picket this place!” I declared but Patty slapped me on the back of the head and led me inside.
The place had a great smell to it and a great mystique. All the people eating there and working there were Asian, more than likely Japanese. Even Patty, my date, was Korean. I was the odd man out.
Robert Sietsema is correct to say they do only one thing and that’s the deep-fried, breaded cutlets. I ordered a half-portion of the pork one for $10 and Patty ordered a salmon one. These came with Miso soup which was promptly delivered:
“Mmm,” said Patty. “This has a lot of flavor.”
Then we were presented with something most unusual: a mortar and a pestle filled with sesame seeds.
“You crush the seeds then add the sauce,” said the waitress. “This is for your entree.”
“Whoah!” I declared, “This is so much fun!”
I set to crushing and then shot a video of Patty crushing her seeds:
We poured the sauce on and then our food arrived. Here’s my deep-fried pork cutlet:
It was, indeed, (to quote Sietsema) “spectacular.” Perfectly breaded, perfectly moist inside: a true work of art. And the dipping sauce only made it more wonderful.
Patty liked hers just as much. “Wow,” she said. “I like this.”
Then she observed my half order. “Is that going to be enough for you?” she asked.
“I’m sure it is,” I said and then quickly gobbled up everything on my plate. I soon found myself calling a waitress over and asking, the best way I could, if I could have the other half of this and make it a full order. The waitress nodded “ok” and Patty laughed and said, “I knew that wouldn’t be enough.”
The truth was it was enough to sate my appetite but wasn’t enough to sate my desire for more deep-fried breaded pork cutlet. This dish goes into the ethnic pantheon in my brain. I enjoyed it that much. Plus the sesame seed crushing was enjoyable too.
So to those of you in the theater district, deciding between the Olive Garden and Red Lobster, travel east, I tell you. Travel east–not the far east–just east of 5th Ave. Gobble some pork cutlet and sit down to your show with your stomach happy.