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ICHIBAN!! Valentines at Katsu

Seth Zurer | Feb 15, 200302:21 PM

Spurred by the descriptions posted on this board by Gwiv and others, Kerensa and I went to Katsu last night. We followed, to a large extent, the described by the inimitable Wiviott in the post linked below. I'll start off by saying that Katsu himself was behind the bar and was extremely charming. It seemed like most of the people at the bar had been coming in for twenty years, and were familiar enough with Katsu and his co-chef Manny that if given the opportunity they would have invited them to their kids' bar mitvahs. Both Katsu and Manny were indredibly solicitous, discreetly listening in to every reaction, beaming whenever Kerensa and I complimented the fish, and clucking and frowning if our reactions were less than rapturous. If you go to Katsu, I highly recommend sitting at the bar -- Katsu's wife came and shot the shit with the chef and several of the long-time patron sorts. Katsu claimed over and over that in Japan, women bought gifts for the man, and threw meaningful mock-resentful glances at his wife, who in turn said things like "i love Katsu. We don't need flowers or gifts. I just wake up in the morning and immediately ask him what's for lunch -- that's love". Sounds nice to me.

After whetting our apetite with edamame, some salad made with marinated soy bean sprouts, and ebisu beer, we started in earnest with baby yellowtail sashimi-- the fish was excellent and fresh, buttery textured, presented very simply, no hifalutin architectural presentation like at heat (the site of our last valentine's day sushi-vaganza) -- just six thick slices of pristine marbled red rimmed yellow tail, atop a japanese herby leaf with some white crispies underneath -- terrific : manny was surprised ot see how quickly it disappeared; Katsu beamed.

Then a teacup sized savory egg custard with eel, shrimp, faux crab, a little mushrom and a single bright green soybean nestled in the bottom. Kerensa liked it alot, except the eel; i thought it was a little bland overall, but texturally it was just right for the weather.

Next came daikyo grilled duck breast. (The married couple next to us, after making sure that we ordered the right duck dish, offered, insistently, repeatedly, to take it off our hands if we didn't like it, an offer that was repeated with nearly every course that we had). Kerensa was crazy about it, i was less thrilled. It was almost pork chop textured, and didn't have the melt ing succulent quality tat I was hoping for. The marinade was really interesting. Flavor after flavor unfold as you chew citrus, then savory, then soy, then duckfat, then back to citrus. But I didn't think it stood up to the Sun Wah standard. Katsu clucked.

That was quickly followed by chunks of deep fried flounder in a deep fried flounder-carcass bowl,topped with deep fried egg noodles and some mixed greens behind. The chunks of fish were great -- perfectly fried, somehow managing to rtain their heat and crisp long after you'd expect the texture ot give way to grease. A couple of pieces from tail end were slightly mealy, but overallthe fish was fantastic. The carcass was mostly edible, soft of a giant fish shaped potato chip. We both enjoyed it a lot.

We then ordered a round of sushi -- some fatty white otoro nigiri, each piece topped with a little bit of deep black roe, some norwegian salmon, a "grand fatty toro" hand roll, a spicy tuna roll, and a deep fried oyster roll with lettuce and mayo. Each piece of nigiri was great, large slabs of fish, with an incredibly high fish to rice ratio, that made each piece slightly more than a mouthful, and a great value.

WHen I go back, I'll probably order more nigiri: the specials were good and charmingly described on the menu ("ICHIBAN!!! Daikyo Grilled Duck!), but the raw fish was truly spectactular, and i wished at the end I had had more room to try more raw offerings. I will say that for the price ($160 for the two of us with two beers and me eating more than my fair share (from both a global and a distended belly perspective) I'm not convinced that Katsu is the best sushi value at that price point. I've spent that much at heat for quality a notch above Katsu's. But at Katsu, I think onecould economize by ordering fewer specials. I'm also curious to try the noodle menu. So, Katsu was neither a revelation nor a disappointment -- i'm not sure it it wil be my first choice for my next sushi splurge, but I'd be tempted, if for no other reason that to work on developing the wonderful rapport i saw between Katsu and his regulars.

The penguin afterwards was pretty good -- white chocolate was a little icy, but the ferrero rocher was just right.

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