>> Tuesday, December 27, 2011
This is part 5 of my latest travel series: Post Quake Japan. Other posts in this series: Kago, Daisan Harumi, Tempura Kondo, and Sushi Mitani.
In a residential part of Tokyo, far from the hustle and bustle of typical Tokyo life, lies a little whimsical house with a crescent moon cut into the side of it.
The journey here is idyllic – step off the beaten path, meander through some lovely parks, and emerge in a little neighborhood to discover Butagumi, a restaurant that arguably serves the best tonkatsu in all of Tokyo.
What makes Butagumi unique?
There are many, many well-known tonkatsu restaurants in Tokyo. The most famous one is probably Maisen, a tonkatsu restaurant housed inside of a former WWII bathhouse.
Unlike Maisen, which sells all sorts of fried items (pork, prawns, potatoes), Butagumi specializes in pork only. The moment you enter the restaurant, you are greeted with a refrigerated display case showcasing many gorgeous cuts of pork.
Butagumi is particularly unique because it has an incredibly diverse range of pork selections. Unlike most tonkatsu places, which may offer one or two choices of pork, Butagumi offers over 50 different varieties of pork – everything from the Kagoshima region’s kurobuta (Berkshire pork) to Spain’s highly prized Iberico pork. The selection varies every day, but on any given day you still have several dozens from which to choose.
Even wall decorations remind you the focus of this special place.
The menu lists which varieties of pork are available that particular day. If you really can't decide (and many people cannot), a popular option is to try the "Butagumi-zen" (3000 yen), a tasting plate which allows you to try small portions of 5 different kinds of pork.
The Butagumi-zen always includes the Iberico pork, which is definitely one of the tastiest (and most expensive) cuts on the menu. If you do order this tasting set, definitely eat the Iberico one last; otherwise, you will be disappointed with anything afterward!
Although the tasting is fun to get, I still think you should order a whole tonkatsu to get the real experience. The tasting pieces are small and are breaded all the way around. The entire piece becomes less “meaty” and, in my opinion, does not taste as good as a traditional slice of a tonkatsu filet.
If you want to go all out, you can do what Bryan did, which is to get a single order of the Iberico pork tonkatsu (4800 yen). Each order actually comes tagged with a number, likely indicating how many they've sold in the lifetime of the restaurant. Typically, you can choose either a rosu ("roast") or a hire ("fillet") cut. The rosu is pork loin near the lower part of the ribs and is typically juicier and fattier. The hire is tenderloin, and is leaner, but also not as juicy! Usually the staff will recommend rosu since it is juicier and tastier.
If you're not quite ready to shell out close to $70 for a piece of tonkatsu, you can always get the normal tonkatsu lunch special, which is still good and much more easy on the wallet at 1500 yen. Other possible interesting pork types include Tokyo X, SGP (Super Golden Pork), the Mangalitsa pork from Hungary. For an excellent, in-depth description of many of their pork offerings, check out this post.
Like at all tonkatsu restaurants, Butagumi serves tonkatsu with pickles and shredded cabbage.
But the pork - how did it taste?
Oh, of course, how could I forget! The pork was absolutely phenomenal, definitely among the best tonkatsu we have ever had. The Iberico pork tonkatsu was especially delicious – fatty, juicy, and full of flavor.
The crunchy, breaded exterior was perfect – not too greasy yet satisfyingly crispy. If you are a pork aficionado, or if you just really like trying different varieties of pork, Butagumi is an excellent place to visit. The ambiance is comfortable yet quaint; the food is incredible; and the menu offerings are really unique and hard to find anywhere else.
Butagumi is a little off the beaten track. It sits inside a super cute house that was converted into a restaurant years ago. Enter and walk up the wooden, slightly creaky stairs to the second floor, where, if you’re lucky, you can actually sit next to the crescent window!
Nearest station: Roppongi