I'm not sure why I hadn't ever made it into Sawtelle Kitchen, but at long last, I was in the neighborhood during the lunch hour and in the mood for some Japanese Yoshoku cuisine. Walking through the doors, I was quickly transported to Japan. More than the "traditional" looking interior design, this space typifies modern Japan than anything with lots of bamboo or woodblock prints, etc. I'm not even sure what it is, but you can find places that look exactly like Sawtelle Kitchen in so many parts of Japan serving similar food.
A quick glance at the menu gave me a hankering for many of the "traditional" yoshoku items like hamburger steak, hayashi rice, ebi fry, gratin, etc. But some of these were conspicuously omitted from the menu. We settled on the menchi-katsu curry (fried hamburger, or meatloaf as they describe on their menu) with curry and rice, and an order of what's traditionally called Napolitan (spaghetti with tomato sauce, peppers, onion, and ham). Napolitan is something you find in many informal izakayas and kissatens (coffee houses) in Japan, but mostly made with ketchup and served with the cylindrical cardboard container of Kraft style parmesan cheese.
The portions are huge at Sawtelle Kitchen, which is the only non-Japanese part of the experience of eating here. But everything else was well executed yoshoku. Examining the menchi-katsu, you can see that it's first grilled, then breaded and deep-fried, a longer process than simply breading and frying the raw meat, as is usually the case. But the result was a much firmer yet moist piece of breaded ground meat. While there were additional filler than just ground beef in the patty (probably breadcrumbs, as that's probably why they call it meatloaf), you can also tell that they take careful care to work the air out of the meat (most traditional yoshoku cookbooks instruct to work the patty by throwing it between your hands, getting the meat to slap your cupped palm and fingers). And the curry was very good, and just spicy enough for a nice kick. And the rice was made to a perfect just-slightly-underdone-ness that is preferred for curry. A very successful dish.
The napolitan was also quite good and everything indicated homemade. While I think most non-Japanese will think it a bastardized Italian red sauce, it was a good balance of sweet and zesty. And what we expected to be the Kraft type cheese was real Italian parmesan. I think any Japanese person who's grown up with this will appreciate the quality and care put in to make it.
Another item you find all over Japan is coffee jelly, a slightly sweetened and gelatinized coffee chilled and served with whipped cream or ice cream. Their version was again quite good, and a big portion. I didn't find out if the cappucino ice cream that came with it was homemade, but a good accompaniment.
I'm already gearing to go back there to sample the tons of other items on the menu. Many of the other pasta dishes sounded pretty great, and I want to taste the demi-glace sauce, which is one of the true indicators of a quality yoshoku restaurant. As it's the base of many of the other sauces, like the curry or the beef hayashi. I didn't see if they had omu-rice, or gratin dishes, or something like doria, but I want to check out all parts of the menu here.
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