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…
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…
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…
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.
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…
“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…
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…
Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin is located on the ground floor of the Regency on Beach Walk hotel…
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
(Take-out phone orders welcome
*Closed for lunch on Sundays
Click here for menu (52kb PDF document)
The Tasty Island Rating:
(4) Excellent. Worth another visit or purchase. (Winnahz!)
• 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