Waikiki Eats: Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin


Kurobuta Pork Loin Katsu

While ramen shops from Japan continue to spring up all over Honolulu, Tonkatsu specialty restaurants have yet to catch on here. McCully Shopping Center used to have one (I can’t recall the name), but that was short lived, and unfortunately I never made it there in time to try it before they closed up. Currently there are only two specialty restaurants that I’m aware of. That would be Cafe Imperial Tonkatsu House, located on Kapiolani boulevard, and what we have here at Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin in Waikiki.

Being a first-timer at the place just this past Saturday, I went for their top dish (pictured above) and ordered the Kurobuta Pork Loin Katsu, which for $36 came as a teishoku set…


Click image for top view

The set includes a bowl of premium-grade white rice, cucumber tsukemono, sesame seed condiment and a bowl of Miso Soup, although we substituted the latter for Tonjiru for an additional $4, which I’ll explain a bit later. The red “bowl” with the Tonkatsu sauce in the center is actually the lid from the Tonjiru, which serves dual purpose here.

My girlfriend ordered the “standard” Thick-Cut Pork Loin Katsu…


Thick-Cut Pork Loin Katsu

This also came as a teishoku set with the same side dishes, but for much less cash at $23.


Thick-Cut Pork Loin Katsu set with Tonjiru on the bottom-right (only available on Saturdays)

Where there’s tonkatsu, there must be sauce, which has a permanent home in the condiments station placed at the center of each table…


Ginza Bairin’s house-made Tonkatsu Sauce

That wood ladle, which sort of resembles a tobacco pipe, is just like the one I remember was used in the Tokyo Tonkatsu shop we frequented. Except the shop in Tokyo also had a wooden sauce pot, whereas here it’s made of glazed ceramic.

Another difference I noticed was the thickness of the pork’s cut. The shop in Tokyo pounded their meat flat, which not only tenderizes it, but helps it to cook faster and thoroughly. I suppose because they’re using a higher quality meat at Ginza Bairin, they can cut it thick without any compromise.

Kurobuta, which translates to “Black Pig” is considered a premium-grade pork imported from Canada. It’s known to have a finer fat marbling and shorter muscle fiber, which makes it more tender and flavorful.

Here’s a piece of my Kurobuta Katsu…

So how was the Kurobuta Katsu? Excellent. While it wasn’t tender enough that I could cut it with my chopsticks, as the Honolulu Advertiser claims, it did stand out in that regard, and also was very flavorful and moist. While I’m glad I tried it, for the price difference, next time around I’d order the standard Pork Katsu, which is considerably easier on the wallet, and not THAT much less in great taste. I tried my girlfriend’s “standard” version and it was almost as good.

Actually, I thought the cut was a little too thick, making the ratio of pork-to-panko a little too much. Not that this a bad thing, just not what I’m used to. I’d also prefer it sliced into thinner pieces. If you look at the second Katsu plate pictured, you can see that entire cutlet is sliced just 5 times, making each section very thick and very wide.

As for the panko crust, it was noticeably on the coarse side, which I can agree with. Especially being that the pork was cut thick, that extra texture helped the panko contribute more. After all this is a CUTLET.

As most Tonkatsu fans will attest, the critical factor in this dish is the sauce. It could be the greatest cut of pork in the world, but if the sauce isn’t right, it just isn’t going to work. Well, I’m happy to report that Ginza Bairin NAILS it. There’s a “freshness” about their house sauce that you just can’t get in a store-bought bottle. Sorry Bull Dog. If you know what Bull Dog tastes like, it’s like that but better. Theirs has a perfect balance of sweet fruit, acidity and zest, that compliments without overpowering the tender pork cutlet. It’s a little thinner than I expected, but that actually worked, as it enabled the sauce to penetrate into the meat better, instead of just coating the outside. Then you get the added flavor and texture from the sesame seeds and POW! My SPAM Musubi meter was hitting the redline!

You can also buy their sauce over-the-counter in bottles for $7 each.

Something new to my tonkatsu dining experience is this fantastic idea of adding ground sesame seeds to the sauce…

The toasted white sesame seeds are brought to the table in this mortar and pestle, which you grind up yourself to release the oils (flavor) in them. Then you can either mix it with your sauce, or dip the katsu into the sauce, then into the sesame seed to give a coating, which is how I did it. I tell you, if haven’t tried katsu like that yet, you must. It’s so good! I’m certainly adding sesame seeds to the table the next time I make tonkatsu.

Ginza Bairin uses premium cotton seed oil from a fresh batch every day, which is said to “highlight its award-winning texture, aroma and flavor”. This, along with the quality of the rest of the ingredients (and Waikiki location of course) is what explains the higher-than-average price of admission here.

“Saturday is SPECIAL Tonjiru Day!” as it says on the menu, which is when we visited, so we substituted miso soup for Tonjiru ($4), which is like miso soup on steroids


Tonjiru

“Ton” is pork, hence Tonjiru uses thin strips of pork in it, which gives it a richer, heartier flavor than “plain” miso soup. While it does have miso, it’s not as pronounced, leaning more towards the dashi side, while being accented by the flavors and substantial solid presence of gobo, daikon, carrot, potato, konnyaku and negi. It’s delicious on it’s own, but I didn’t think it complimented the Tonkatsu as well as Miso Soup. I like how Miso Soup balances the meal, buffers the palate and settles the stomach, where as the Tonjiru is a little too complex. I’d really enjoy it in a larger bowl as a meal by itself, but not as a side dish with Tonkatsu.

That cotton seed oil must have helped lighten the dish, because I actually still had room for dessert. So we ordered the Azuki Bean Ice Cream to share…


Azuki Bean Ice Cream (featuring Bubbies), $3.50

Aren’t those the coolest spoons! This dish is made up of premium vanilla ice cream from Bubbies!, sweet mochi balls and sweet azuki beans, with a sprig of fresh mint. I don’t care for Azuki beans on its own, or in Shave Ice for that matter, but with the ice cream and mochi, the sum of its parts made this dessert simply delicious! it was the perfect finishing touch to an absolutely fantastic Tonkatsu lunch.

Not only was the food great, but so was the ambiance of the restaurant. It’s quiet, clean and actually very new-looking. There’s counter seating on one side…

And table seating that take up the rest of the place…

In charge during our visit was Chef Mitsuru Yoshida…

Out of respect, I won’t post the picture on this page, but if you care to, click here to see how clean and stylish even their restroom is! Our server was quite proud about that. lol

Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin is located on the ground floor of the Regency on Beach Walk hotel…

which is located on Beach Walk, the street just before the old Mitsukoshi building where Planet Hollywood is.

Parking is available next door in an APCOA lot with validation for just $1.

Other menu offerings include their Pork Loin Katsu Don and the original Bairin Pork Tenderloin Katsu Sandwich. And If pork isn’t on everyone’s mind, there’s a few other items to choose from, such as Jumbo Black Tiger Shrimp Katsu, Wafu Chicken Karaage & Chicken & Vegetable Katsu.

In closing, we thoroughly enjoyed our Tonkatsu meal and dessert here. While the prices are on the high side, the taste and quality of what’s served is exceptional, as is the service and ambiance. While it may not be a practical place to take the entire family, it would be a great choice to entertain business associates or a special date.

Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin
255 Beach Walk
Honolulu, HI 96815
808-926-808
(Take-out phone orders welcome

Hours:
Lunch 11am-2:30pm
Dinner 5pm-9:30pm
*Closed for lunch on Sundays

Click here for menu (52kb PDF document)

The Tasty Island Rating:

(4) Excellent. Worth another visit or purchase. (Winnahz!)

Related Links:
www.pj-world..com/bairin – company website
At Tonkatsu Eateries, Try Pork at its Finest – review by The Honolulu Advertiser
Designer Katsu – review by Honolulu Weekly
Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin – review by NattoKun
Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin – reviews on Yelp

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9 thoughts on “Waikiki Eats: Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin

  1. I believe the McCully Shopping Center restaurant you recall was “Tonkatsu Jugemu” which had a cute little pig mascot. I went there once and had the mixed fry; it was pretty good.

  2. I have already marked this for future reference when I’m back home. And even if my original intention was Kauai, I think I may just have to visit this restaurant. Thanks Pomai!

  3. I was just going to email and ask for restaurant recommendations if you only had 2 nights in Waikiki… but with the sight of that slice of Kurobuta Katsu, this went to the top of my list!

    What other restaurant would you say is a must-try or die in Waikiki? We’ll be there 2 nights before we fly out.

  4. Thank goodness I had a big lunch before seeing your ono-looking photos! The panko coating on the katsu in the photos look perfect, cripsy enough to create a small crunch but not mouth-scraping hard. The tonjiru looks delicious but I think I would want that as a separate meal. As you mentioned, it didn’t go as well with the tonkatsu as miso would have done.

  5. Molly, mahalo providing for the name “Tonkatsu Jugemu”. I tried looking up that name for any reviews on the place, but seems nobody covered it… even OnoKineGrindz, which is surprising.

    Rowena and Manju, yes highly recommended. Do check it out. You’ll be happy campers for sure! Especially if you’re familiar with authentic, Japanese-style Tonkatsu, then you’ll appreciate it that much more.

    Manju, I had wonderful experiences and blogged about it at Roy’s Waikiki, The Ocean House (great seafood and ocean front!) and Sansei. Try search my site for those places. I’ve also been hearing lots of hype lately about Top of Waikiki, which is a revolving restaurant located, well, on the top of Waikiki! Look up some Yelp reviews on the place.

    Jenny, yeah the Tonjiru has quite a bit of character on its own. It kinda’ reminded me of Oden. Shoots, I’d add a little bit of ramen or soba noodles to the Tonjiru, along with some Menma and call it a day.

  6. Looks yummy! The Tonjiru looks especially tasty. The set’s seem a bit on the pricey end but after all it is Wakiki. Definitely a place to try out wit the girlfriend. Thanks for the review!

  7. I cannot wait to go there on my next visit home! It looks so cool with all those special “extras”. My mom used to make tonjiru growing up and I love it. I am with you about liking thinner tonkatsu. Whenever I ate it in Japan, it’s so damn thick but my mom used to do the real thin kind at home. Have you had the tonjiru at the Okinawan restaurant (can’t remember the name but it’s a little hole-in-the-wall) on Kapahulu? Yum. 🙂

  8. Have you tried Kafe Imperial? I love the chicken katsu there. I don’t seem to like pork as much. I love pork, but for some reason not as big a fan of it in tonkatsu. They recently opened up a kioske at Shirokia. It’s $7 for plain tonkatsu or sandwhich, $9 for katsudon, and $11 for a bento, which has other varieties of katsu and not the tonkatsu. I probably going to Kafe Imperial again to try them out and then heading over to Shirokia to try a small box of their tonkatsu.

  9. Tim, I’ve read about them via the Honolulu Advertiser and Dale’s Loco Kine Grinds website, but have yet to get there and try Imperial. I was just in Shirokiya yesterday and noticed they had a bunch of Katsu bentos, but didn’t see if it said Kafe Imperial on the label.

    Michelle, regarding Okinawan restaurants, I’ve never been to Sunrise on Kapahulu, but now that you pointed them out, I’m gonna’ have to put them on my must-do list, along with Utage next to Young’s Fish Market, and Violets across the street.

    iCoty, yeah, they are on the pricey side, even for the regular pork Tonkatsu, but the quality of the ingredients is certainly there, and you can taste it. IIRC, they had lunch specials that were much cheaper, at less than $20. Do opt for the Tonjiru when you go here. Excellent. With this rainy weather, that would hit the spot right about now.

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