- Location: 3220 28 St. SW, Calgary
- Phone: 403-475-1677
- Website: katsuten.ca
- Price: $6.50-$18
- Cuisine: Japanese with hints of Korean
- Atmosphere: Small space with a casual vibe
- Drinks on offer: Limited beer and sake options
- Best bets: Lotus root salad, cheese katsu, loin katsu, cream curry udon
- Vegetarian friendly? Yes
- Additional info: Open for lunch and dinner, but closed Sundays
- Cheap eats
When one thinks of Japanese cuisine, immediate images of platters of sashimi and nigiri, colourful and placed just so, or deep bowls filled with umami-ridden broth surrounding handmade noodles and a tender coil of pork belly, may come to mind. But what about tonkatsu?
Not nearly as visually stunning as impeccably prepared sushi or as enticing to the senses by way of aroma as ramen, tonkatsu is a Japanese staple that is worthy of just as much attention and admiration. Well, it is when it’s done right like it is here at Katsuten.
At its simplest, the Asian specialty is a pounded pork cutlet that’s been breaded with panko and fried to sizzling brown perfection. Think German schnitzel, but prepared with a little more finesse and served with much lighter and brighter accoutrements such as shaved cabbage salad with yuzu dressing. While a schnitzel dinner can leave a person feeling heavy, sitting down for tonkatsu at this hidden gem of a restaurant leaves you wanting more and more. And if you’re really hungry, perhaps some more.
In terms of location, Katsuten is a hole in the wall. Located just off of 33rd Ave. in the Killarney neighbourhood, the strip mall it’s located in is barely visible from the road and requires you to turn off and hook right past another strip mall to find it.
Its exterior is also very unassuming. With its shades drawn, the restaurant almost goes out of its way to not draw attention to itself. Walk through the doors and be pleasantly surprised by a bold blue, sunshine yellow and white interior accented humbly by Japanese pop culture figurines and pendant lights.
Japanese cuisine doesn’t always lend itself to the local mantra, but Katsuten is happy to inform you that its katsu offerings are all coated in finely ground bread crumbs from Glamorgan Bakery just a few blocks down the road. It’s a nice touch, especially for diners who hold a spot in their heart for the bakery and its famous cheese buns – I know I do. Once these finely ground crumbs are used to coat, say, a slice of pounded-thin, tender pork tenderloin and fried, they splinter into a light, golden exterior around the meat. So light, in fact, that its texture could be described as the hot, crispy equivalent of hoar frost clinging to a tree branch on a winter’s day.
It is this beautiful, mouth-watering exterior that clings to the addictive homemade tonkatsu sauce. Essentially the Japanese version of barbecue sauce, this tangy condiment is made with a combination of ketchup, mirin, soy sauce and garlic, among other things. After a couple dips, I had to wonder whether all of the slices of salty katsu I was consuming were merely a vessel to consume the dark, sweet and sour sauce.
Outside of the classic tonkatsu, other “katsu” (chicken, prawn, potato cake) and specialty dishes are well worth pinching with your chopsticks. A fried lotus root “salad” doesn’t quite live up to its name as first impressions leave it looking like a moderately sized bowl full of fried lotus chips. A quick turn with your chopsticks will uncover a piquant soy dressing and marinated slices of red onion, which help turn the chips into something more interesting.
Then there’s a slightly peculiar-looking curry udon that’s topped with a chilled potato cream, piped on like whipped cream to a summer berry tart. As the good-natured server will instruct you, stir the chilled cream into the hot curry and noodles hiding underneath – Katsuten likes to surprise you by hiding dish components underneath others it seems – for a fairly pleasant, but not overly memorable result.
The cheese katsu is especially indulgent, being the edible lovechild of a mozzarella stick and tonkatsu. The soft, gooey cheese wrapped in a thin cut of pork loin is a particularly rewarding bite when you top a piece with some of the fresh and slightly tart cabbage slaw nestled nearby on the plate. Dishes as delightful as this one make me reluctant to share with my dinner companions.
Scoops of ice cream are the only sweet option to finish a meal here at the cozy and enjoyable Katsuten, but if you have room for dessert, you probably have room for one more plate of katsu. That extra plate comes with absolutely no regrets.