Sunday, October 18, 2015

No Compromises: A Commitment to Flavor at Tonkatsu Maisen

The inspiring story of Tonkatsu Maisen began when a simple housewife entered the fast-paced and hectic restaurant business back in 1965, offering tonkatsu, a signature dish that has served as the cornerstone of the rapidly growing chain. Half a century later, Tonkatsu Maisen's network of branches continues to grow, expanding beyond Japan, built around the philosophy of the simple housewife's uncompromising commitment to flavor... 

In celebration of Tonkatsu Maisen's 50th anniversary, the third Maisen branch in the Philippines was formally opened at SM Megamall. And the inspiring story of Maisen continues with its signature dishes at its newest branch... 

"We have a commitment to flavor. We make no compromises." It's a corporate philosophy felt and experienced at every Maisen branch, including its newest location. At the formal opening, the staff lined up and prepared to greet guests (L) as Maisen's signature sandwiches were served, including the Minced Pork Katsu Sandwich (R)...

...the Shrimp Katsu Sandwich (L) and the Tenderloin Katsu Sandwich (R), popular snacks for those on-the-go with busy scheds, it's also a popular take-out treat enjoyed on a quick break. The rich flavors of the minced pork, pork tenderloin and shrimp katsu come through with every bite, a preview of even more rich flavors to come.  

The semi-open kitchen layout provides diners a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes process for every dish, showcasing the stringent standards and quality that have made Maisen famous in Japan. The same level of excellence and uncompromising commitment to flavor can be seen in their newest branch at SM Megamall.   

Sparkling wine flowed freely during the opening, as more of the signature katsu sandwiches were served, adding to the celebratory vibe at Maisen. Partners and VIPs then prepared for the formal ribbon-cutting ceremony...   

Daphne Osena-Paez (L) hosted the evening's festivities as Maisen's Japanese and local management team and partners led by retail magnate Ben Chan and successful restaurateur Rikki Dee (R) announced the formal opening of Maisen's third branch in the metro with the ceremonial ribbon-cutting. 

Maisen's signature dishes then take the spotlight. A light yet refreshingly creamy Crab and Cucumber Salad (P 190) kicks off my Maisen experience. The delicate notes of the thinly-sliced cucumber and chunks of crab meat are layered by the creamy richness from the Japanese mayo dressing. It's the perfect starter as the next dishes were served...

The elegantly plated Prawn Katsu (P 345-3 pcs A La Carte/P 495 Set) was served next, with a side of shredded cabbage, lemon and tartar dip. The prawns are impressively huge, and three pieces are a meal in itself. The plump prawns and the crisp outer layer of katsu breading combine for a delectable play on contrasting textures, with the flavors accentuated by lemon and creamy tartar dip.

The Potato Croquette (P 90 A La Carte), with soft and creamy mashed potatoes in katsu breading, is another dish highlighting Maisen's innovative and creative approach. The creamy potatoes and katsu breading combine for that signature contrasting texture for yet another flavorful combo.

In contrast, Maisen's Grilled Salmon (P 250) delivered simple and uncomplicated, pure, clean, and fresh flavors. Perfectly grilled, the salmon remained juicy with that distinct buttery richness, and a squeeze of lemon is all you need.

After some bite-sized samples of Maisen's signature sandwiches, it was time to sample the regular serving. Maisen's Tenderloin Katsu Pocket Sandwich Set (P 275), a stuffed sandwich with tenderloin katsu and egg served with a side of salad and fruits, is a perfect snack and light meal, and if you go for a set, your sandwich comes with salad and fresh seasonal fruits for a complete meal. The bread is light and thin, allowing you to taste more of the savory katsu and egg for rich flavors.

You can also find other main dishes at Maisen, like the Pork Sukiyaki Set (P 520), with tenderloin katsu, rice, pickled vegetables, fruits and miso soup. Instead of the usual beef, Maisen injects its own unique twist to the classic dish with tenderloin katsu. And the result is an equally rich dish with the subtle sweet notes of pork. The vegetables and mushrooms complete the flavors. Great for sharing, and a complete meal in itself.

Then, it's time for Maisen's signature dish, the dish that built Tonkatsu Maisen. And it all begins with the proprietary sauces, an important element in the distinct Maisen flavor. At Maisen, you can find four types of sauces, the "Amakuchi," or sweet sauce; the "Karakuchi," or Worcestershire-based sauce; the Tenderloin Katsu Sandwich Sauce, and the "special sauce" reserved for use exclusively for the premium black-skinned pork. The Amakuchi sauce is made with the clear water from Nikko, blended with fresh fruits and vegetables for that distinct sweetness, completed with freshly ground spice. The Karakuchi sauce has its own unique spice blend for bold flavors. Then, there's Maisen's Spice Salt, a flavorful blend of salt, citrus, turmeric, and other seasonings that pair well with the signature tonkatsu and other dishes. Try sprinkling some of Maisen's Spice Salt on steamed white rice and prepare for a burst of rich flavors.

That evening, Maisen served two premium pork cutlets just for the opening, the Amaiyuwaku or pure-bred Yorkshire pig, and the Chamiton cutlet from exclusively tea leaf-fed pigs imported from the Kogoshima Prefecture of Japan, making the special branch opening even more special. For just one special evening, guests were given a rare privilege to sample some of Japan's highly-prized pork cutlets served exclusively for the opening. The Chamiton Set featured the special breaded pork on traditional banana leaves served with Japanese rice, shredded cabbage, miso soup, pickles, daikon radish and ponzu sauce.  

I go for the Amaiyuwaku Set elegantly laid on a banana leaf served with Japanese rice, cabbage, miso soup, pickles, daikon radish and ponzu sauce. The same care and attention to detail is applied to the premium cutlets by Maisen's skilled culinary team, from the precise cut to the pounding of the pork ensuring a tender and juicy cutlet. At Maisen, each cutlet goes through the same process for its Tenderloin Katsu, Loin Katsu, and premium Kurobuta with its rich, deep, and savory umami notes that can only come from the premium Black Berkshire hogs. The breading completes the experience, made with special proprietary methods and machines for that perfectly crisp texture, fried in Maisen's special oil. Each tonkatsu dish at Maisen aims to achieve the level of "kendachi," loosely translated as the "state of blossomed flowers." One bite immediately tells you that the light yet crisp texture is indeed, "kendachi."

The Amaiyuwaku pork from the rare, pure Yorkshire hog is tender and juicy, with an almost butter-like texture that seems to melt in your mouth. Fed mainly on a diet of bread, the meat from the Yorkshire hog delivers a mild and delicate sweetness, with a perfectly crisp outer layer of breading for contrasting textures. It's that play on texture and flavor that makes the premium Amaiyuwaku pork special, capping my first-ever dining experience at Maisen.

Both sets were served with Maisen's signature pickled vegetables that's just perfect as a palate cleanser to temper the richness of the breaded premium pork cutlet and fresh seasonal fruits. Other condiments include spring onions, sesame seeds and calamansi paired with daikon radish for an Oroshi-style katsu which I enjoyed.

The premium pork sets definitely added that special element for the evening's festivities, and the opening of Maisen's third branch in the metro is another feather on the cap for its 50th anniversary milestone. And I'm pretty sure the simple housewife who founded the restaurant would have approved of the successful opening of Maisen's SM Megamall branch, as Tonkatsu Maisen continues to expand its global reach.

Tonkatsu Maisen is located at the Third Floor, Units 329 & 330, Building A, SM Mega Mall, Ortigas Centre, Ortigas, EDSA, Mandaluyong City or call 650-1691 for inquiries. 

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