You don't usually remember who came in second but in the case of Maisen, dubbed as "Tokyo's second most popular tonkatsu place" we will certainly remember the great meal we had there.
Maisen is truly a tonkatsu landmark -- it's even prominently shown on the street map that is right outside the subway exit on the Aoyama itchome crossing.
It's Sunday afternoon and the crowds are so thick along Omotesando. I was worried that we would lose our way until I looked up and saw the directional sign pointing the way to Maisen.
Thanks to more directional signs along the twists and turns of the back roads of Aoyama, we had no trouble reaching our destination. Maisen has other branches in Tokyo but this is the main shop.
Pork, pork glorious pork! I have an all time favourite tonkatsu place in Tokyo.
Would Maisen beat my favourite?
There is counter seating just as you enter the building. Since it's almost 4 in the afternoon, the chairs are devoid of diners.
Through the noren, I peek at the cooks who are chatting and savouring the off peak hours.
We go through this hallway with more tables for diners. I feel like I am being led to the Promised Land of Pork.
After passing through the empty areas in front, I certainly wasn't expecting the main dining room to be full. Everyone was chomping down on full tonkatsu meals at 4 in the afternoon! Just my kind of crowd! This building used to be a public bath house way before World War 2 which somehow explains its spacious but utilitarian interiors.
There are the usual pots of different types of sauces -- for the tonkatsu, there is the regular and the spicy variety and there's the dressing for the shredded cabbage. We were also given a small dish of grated radish with bonito flakes -- now what is this for?
Time to check out the menu although Jay knows exactly what he came here for! There are several types of tonkatsu but the specialty according to the waitress is the Kurobota set. At 2,100 yen, it seems like a good deal.
All tonkatsu is fried and cooked to order -- otherwise how would you enjoy that fresh crunch?
We have a bit of a wait -- enough for me to check out how the Japanese diners use the grated radish.
It is spooned on top of each bite, along with the tonkatsu sauce. Japanese radish or daikon is milder than the usual kind so it enhanced and didn't compete with the tonkatsu sauce.
Surprise, surprise! I decided against ordering tonkatsu and instead had this aptly called "Festive Meal" . Japanese cuisine always follows the fours seasons and my tray was overflowing with what were probably good choices for autumn eating. A small plate with two slices of very fresh tuna sashimi served as the appetiser. Three small donburi bowls look so colourful and appetising!
Aside from the tonkatsu, ginger stewed pork or shoga yaki is the next best specialty of Maisen. People who grow a little weary of ordering tonkatsu all the time probably use this as a taste breaker. My "Festive Meal" came with three small donburi bowls -- one of which was topped with Maisen's ginger pork. Shoga yaki is a simple quick stir fry but the flavour is amazing -- just proves that the simpler the preparation, the better the taste!
After ooh-ing and aaah-ing over my shoga yaki -- and having Jay try a bite -- I moved on to the next small bowl. This is shredded salmon and salmon roe on top of rice. Salmon is not my favourite fish but I love salmon roe. Each small globule of goodness was like an umami explosion in my mouth.
The third small donburi had deep fried small pork bits and chopped scrambled egg, artfully and attractively arranged. The bright yellow made a great contrast with dark brown and small sprig of green completed the pretty picture. This was so good. The pork was fried till it was almost crunchy and yet, it was perfectly seasoned and didn't taste dry at all. At first I thought it was ground pork but it seemed that it had been hand chopped to small bits.
In addition to the three donburi bowls, a small plate of kushi katsu croquettes was also part of the "Festive Meal". What great value for just 1,600 yen!
Thank goodness for a small dish of yuzu flavoured sherbet to cleanse the palate of all the rich, porky flavours!
We finish dessert and head out to enjoy the cool autumn weather.
The trees lining Omotesando have started to show off their fall colours.
A leisurely walk along this beautiful avenue is just the thing to cap off a memorable meal at Maisen.