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Tonki - The Review - Tokyo

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Andy P. Sep 4, 2000 10:40 AM

Konbanwa (Good Evening)-

Caveat: I regret that my command of the English language is not sufficient enough to totally express the rapture that Tonki brings to my soul every time I eat there....

I've been promising to myself to do this since I first found chowhound.com, and so now...here it is. The first real chowhound.com review of the BEST (and most famous) tonkatsu place in all of Tokyo. (Jim, I know that's it been mentioned in other messages, but I felt that it deserved it's own posting). :}

First, the definition of "tonkatsu" - Deep fried pork cutlet. In a much, MUCH earlier posting, (answering a question after WAY too much sake, I mistakingly posted that Tonki served chicken cutlets, as well. Sorry for the mistake) I feel that I must now amend for the error of my ways.

How great is it to be able to go to an always outstanding restaurant, rave about it, and be able to post their entire menu, (in a relatively short amount of space), on chowhound.com?

First, the menu (then the raves...):
Note: Since my keyboard at home does not have a "yen" symbol on it, I'll use a "Y" instead.

MENU
HIRE-KATSU TEISHOKU ----- Y1,650
Hire-katsu {fillet cutlets: all
lean meat, wt. 120g).
rice, miso soup and pickles.

ROHSU-KATSU TEISHOKU ----- Y1,650
Rohsu-katsu (Loin cutlets: some
fat meat. wt. 150g).
rice, miso soup and pickles.

HIRE-KATSU --------------- Y1,150
ROHSU-KATSU -------------- Y1,150
KUSHI-KATSU ---------------- Y700
(meat skewered with onion)

Beer ----------------------- Y650
Beer (small) --------------- Y350
SAKE ----------------------- Y470
Cola ----------------------- Y150

Yup, that's it, folk.

(My notes):
Difference between Hire-katsu and Rohsu Katsu:
HIRE-KATSU is pork tenderloin.
ROHSU-KATSU is a boneless pork chop.
Does this mean that there is an extra 30g. of fat on the Rohsu-Katsu? The answer is an absolute "NO WAY". It maybe, at the most, has an extra 6g-10g of fat on it. (But, of course, the flavor is exquisite)!

BTW. the Kushi-katsu is made from the pork tenderloin.

Now, for the raves. This is the absolute BEST tonkatsu that I've had the pleasure of experiencing in Tokyo. Yes, it is deep-fried, but like the best fried-chicken from the South, there isn't the slightest hint of an oily taste in the meal, or oily spot on your plate. The meat is so tender, and so pork-a-licious, while the batter on the outside of the tonkatsu is so crisp, that you'll think that you've gone to heaven. Each plate, whether or not you get the meal set (teishoku) or not, is served with all the shredded cabbage that you can manage.

The only difference between the meals that cost Y 1,650 and Y 1,150 is the addition of rice, miso soup, and pickles. Everything comes with bottomless cabbage. Also, all meals come with bottomless green tea (no extra charge).

Every meal comes with a mustard that is so good, (and SO hot, that just a dab will clear your sinuses, and bring tears to your eyes), along with a bottle of tonkatsu sauce, that you can augment the flavor of the meal to your taste. For some mystical reason, the tonkatsu sauce helps take the edge off of the mustard, without detracting from the mustard's flavor. (Hint...tonkatsu sauce is wonderful with shredded cabbage!).

If you get the meal set, you also get all the rice and miso soup that you can handle. And, being a wonderful restaurant, they do something with their miso soup that I haven't found anywhere else in Tokyo...they add chunks of pork to it, which makes for an unbelievable miso soup!

This meal is absolutely surreal. The only thing that is even more fun is when you order your first beer. Along with the beer, you get a dish of peanuts. 10 peanuts. Every time. We've counted.

This place is always crowded. The seating downstairs is around a large horseshoe counter, which surrounds the prep/cooking area. Fortunately, against the walls are benches and chairs for the waiting public. One of the things that they do great is this: As soon as you walk in the door, they take your order. So, soon after you've actually been seated, your meal arrives. They also have an upstairs dining area, (though I hesitate to mention it, since it seems to be a pretty guarded secret). Upstairs has regular tables (4-6 people), beer on tap, and about 5 tatami rooms, each of which accomodates about 6-8 people. When I'm with friends, I actually prefer to eat upstairs (seldom any wait).

I now eat here at least 3-4 times a month (since it is on my walk home from the train station). If you are ever in Tokyo, and have just one chowhoundy place to visit, this is the spot!! Shoot, drop me a message on this board (or an email), and afterward, I'll drag you half a block to my favorite British pub in Tokyo - great fish and chips...but, a different post for a different day.

Tonki is located at 1-2 Shimo-meguro 1-chome, Meguro-ku, Tokyo. (West side of Meguro Station) They are open from 4:00PM - 11:00/11:30 PM (Last Order is 10:45 PM). They are closed on Tuesdays, and the third Monday of every month.

There is also a smaller version of Tonki on the east side of Meguro Station (2nd floor, across from the taxi cabs), that is open for lunch. But, I've never had the opportunity to visit there, so my opinions of the main branch will have to suffice.

Yoroshiku,
Andy

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  1. j
    Jim Leff RE: Andy P. Sep 4, 2000 11:00 AM

    Great job, Andy.

    My favorite part was that the woman who took your order at the door ("ordering" basically consists of stipulating "with fat" or "without fat") never took notes...she remembered what you ordered and the order of everyone's entrance. As you sit around the perimeter (like you're waiting to be asked to dance), jealously staring holes in the backs of those at the counter, you feel totally forgotten, until a space opens up somewhere and the woman points you toward to your seat at the Blessed Counter, where your tonkatsu magically appears, fatted per your instructions.

    ciao

    ps--fish and chips after tonkatsu????

    5 Replies
    1. re: Jim Leff
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      Andy P. RE: Jim Leff Sep 4, 2000 01:39 PM

      Aw, c'mon...tonkatsu at 5:30 PM, fish and chips at 11:00 PM.,(after a few pints). You KNOW that you are ready to split a basket. :)

      Cheers,
      Andy

      1. re: Andy P.
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        Michael RE: Andy P. Oct 27, 2000 04:47 AM

        I hate to be the single dissenting voice, but I think Katsuyoshi in Ebisu Garden Place (B2) may beat Tonki. It is, however, more expensive (Y2500 for hire). Lunch is cheaper than dinner though. Check it out. I'd love to hear what others think.

        1. re: Andy P.
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          kathryn Kellinger RE: Andy P. Dec 2, 2000 08:11 PM

          Have wanted to publicly thank Andy since September for personally escorting me to Tonki (A chowhound connection)where I did enjoy the greatest tonkatsu of my life. Andy, thanks so much, Donna and I greatly enjoyed meeting you.

          1. re: kathryn Kellinger
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            Jim Leff RE: kathryn Kellinger Dec 2, 2000 08:41 PM

            kathryn --

            Yup, Tonki's the greatest.

            Did you find anything else great while you were over there? I hope you got to have at least one meal in the tent village by Shinjuki train station (or was it Harajuko?)

            Also, for those reading along, our recommended chow book list includes a great guide to Tokyo that anyone headed that way (and vicarious types as well) shouldn't miss. Use link below, and scroll (or search) to "Tokyo City Guide" (Andy Penn, you've gotta own this)

            ciao

            Link: http://www.chowhound.com/reading/read...

            1. re: Jim Leff
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              Andy P. RE: Jim Leff Dec 11, 2000 04:03 PM

              Hi Kathryn and Donna!

              Actually, the pleasure was all mine. I'm glad that y'all had a safe trip back. Holler if a return trip happens next year. I'm sure I'll have found some other cool places to take Donna and you.

              Jim, yes, I do own the TCG. It, along with my Tokyo bilingual atlas, my subway guide, and my Japanese-English dictionary, is always with me. I find the TCG to be the most comprehensive guide to Tokyo that I've seen.

              Yoroshiku,
              Andy

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        Alex RE: Andy P. Sep 4, 2000 02:08 PM

        What a great post!

        I recently returned from a trip to Japan and had every intention of visiting Tonki after reading the high praise from contributors to this board. The day after I arrived in Tokyo, I prepared to set out from my hotel to the restaurant. Just as one of the front desk staff finished giving me subway directions, a guest of the hotel who had overheard our conversation informed me that Tonki was closed on that day (I believe it was Monday or Tuesday). The following day I could not make the trip due to other plans. The next day I planned on having lunch at the restaurant, but as I was leaving the hotel, I double checked the directions with one the the hotel staff and was informed that Tonki did not open until 4:00 PM. I had early dinner plans with my wife across town so this didn't really work. Since this was my last full day in Tokyo I was devestated. We left for Kyoto the next day with our Tonkatsu cravings still not satisfied. Outside of the Kyoto food market, we saw plastic renditions of fried pork cutlets and cabbabe in the window. We gave it a shot and it was excellent - lightly fried pork cutlets (but as you stated, not heavy or greasy), unlimited cabbage, wonderful hot mustard and name (draft) beers. We each ordered two different types of Tonkatsu - at first we thought one was pork, the other chicken. We asked our server, but he wasn't able to communicate (given the language barrier) the difference between the two. But after reading your post, now I know.

        Our only regret foodwise was our failure to ever get to the legendary Tonki - we have both said that this omission alone will necesitate a return visit.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Alex
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          Andy P. RE: Alex Sep 8, 2000 07:45 AM

          Hi Alex,

          Thanks for your kind words. Personally, I think that making a return visit to Japan just to experience the joy that is "Tonki" is a fantastic idea. Hope you make it back!

          Andy

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          chobochobo RE: Andy P. Oct 9, 2011 10:20 PM

          Went in September 2011 the day after the storm. Walked past it without knowing, the outside is basically a wall of sliding wooden framed glass doors with the drapes/ curtains with japanese script on them. The inside was spacious and bright (there is an upstairs too I think but I didn't explore). Packed full of locals, including a expat Jazz musician who lived nearby. Order taken by the boss-man, tried both cuts and just took in the atmosphere whilst waiting. Everything is cooked to order, they changed the frying oil frequently. Everything was under control even though it was super busy. Tonkatsu was lovely. Would go again, most definitely.

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            TokyoRob RE: Andy P. Oct 11, 2011 06:46 AM

            I moved to Japan a year ago, and my wife (a Japan native) always talked about the great tonkatsu restaurant in our neighborhood. It took me a while, but I finally found my way to Tonki last week. The posts above are accurate. Tonki does one thing, and they do it exceptionally well. The tonkatsu is crispy and delicious. Don't expect ambiance - this is Tokyo's version of an old-school diner. But that is part of the charm. Unfortunately for my waistline, I live in walking distance to Tonki. I plan to become a regular.

            1 Reply
            1. re: TokyoRob
              kamiosaki RE: TokyoRob Oct 29, 2011 05:27 AM

              TokyoRob - I'm a former resident of that same neighborhood (roughly). Try the tonkatsu place down the slope going west, on the north side - the sign on top of the building is とんかつ大宝 and tell us your thoughts relative to Tonki.

              http://www.tonkatsu-taihou.jp/aboutus...

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              akated RE: Andy P. Oct 27, 2011 05:08 AM

              i must be the only one on the board who doesn't "get" tonki. i first had it in 2003 (my very first trip to tokyo) - it was recommended in lonely planet. i practically dragged my travelling companions to the restaurant (we were in another part of town). none of us were happy with the meal - the pork was not particularly juicy (we had both the hire and the rosu, and the crumb did not adhere to the pork well. the colour was much darker than other tonkatsu that we've encountered - a very dark brown; this suggested to us that the oil was not particularly fresh (?); and indeed, the cutlets did have quite a strong "oil" taste to them.

              circa 2011, when i went back for a meal (a japanese acquaintance chose the dinner location) - same thing! it was exactly the same experience all over again.

              did i just happen to get two (very) off-nights? or perhaps the style of tonkatsu at tonki is supposed to be markedly different from other tonkatsu places?

              (fyi, i use katsukura/butagumi as a benchmark for tonkatsu usually)

              6 Replies
              1. re: akated
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                Uncle Yabai RE: akated Oct 27, 2011 05:50 AM

                Just not for you. My guess is that oil vat they have in the middle has been in use with the same oil since the early Showa period. Personally, I love Tonki. It is to me a microcosm of everything Japanese, and an unique experience. And I love their style of tonkatsu. My standards are butagumi and tonki, and there is a time for each of them. I like Katsukura, Hirata Bokujo, and Maisen also, but Tonki and Butagumi are a step above, in my view.

                1. re: Uncle Yabai
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                  akated RE: Uncle Yabai Oct 27, 2011 06:17 AM

                  hmmm. are there tonkatsu restaurants that are similar in style to tonki? most places i've been to seem to be closer to the style of butagumi (even when overseas). would love to find out more on this.

                  1. re: akated
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                    Uncle Yabai RE: akated Oct 27, 2011 09:17 PM

                    Tonki is an "only in Japan" experience. And sui generis even in Japan. I've never been to another tonkatsu place in Japan that has the same, ahem, way of doing things.

                2. re: akated
                  Robb S RE: akated Oct 29, 2011 03:42 AM

                  You're certainly not alone in not understanding Tonki's appeal. Based on their food, atmosphere and service, I'm simply mystified by the popularity of the place. Even their kitsch appeal wears thin pretty quickly.

                  1. re: Robb S
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                    Uncle Yabai RE: Robb S Oct 29, 2011 07:11 AM

                    Tonki is not kitschy, there is zero self-referential irony or cutesy in what they do there.

                    1. re: Uncle Yabai
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                      akated RE: Uncle Yabai Oct 29, 2011 08:25 AM

                      hmmm. i too don't think tonki is kitschy; i kind of get the atmosphere of the place. my beef's really just with the food (which of course is personal, but then taste always is). heh.

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