By Zsarlene B. Chua, Reporter
WHAT BETTER WAY to spend a Friday than gorging on a dozen fried meat skewers and clogging one’s arteries in the process? Well, that’s exactly what this reporter did last week as she paid a visit to the first Philippine branch of Kushikatsu Daruma, Osaka’s popular kushikatsu restaurant.
Kushikatsu are deep-fried meat skewers breaded with Japanese bread crumbs (panko) and dipped in a special sauce reminiscent of the usual tonkatsu (deep-fried pork cutlet) sauce with Worcestershire sauce as base.
Upon entering the restaurant — located on the al fresco section at the second floor of BGC’s Uptown mall — one is welcomed with a myriad of daruma dolls (hollow dolls fashioned in the likeness of Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism) on dividers and Japanese lanterns hanging from the eaves alongside emphatic streamers saying, “no double dipping,” because, as this writer found out, the dipping sauce is served using one container per table.
A note on the menu indicated that the one-container-per-table policy is meant to reduce wastefulness, a philosophy Osakans live by.
In the Philippines, it is not uncommon to see street food vendor stalls hawking fish balls and squid balls with single containers for the sweet, sweet and spicy, and vinegar dipping sauces. And the same rules apply — “no double-dipping.” So the “no double-dipping” rule is easy to follow. Besides, the sauce — though a bit runnier than other tonkatsu sauces — easily coats the entire skewer and is adequately absorbed by the breading so it doesn’t require a second dip.
The menu offerings are mostly skewers of all shapes and sizes — from the humble potato to foie gras — and are billed per stick, with the cheapest ones coming at P39 per stick (for the vegetables and crabsticks, among others) to P199 a stick for Japanese oysters and foie gras.
The restaurant also offers sets: the Beginner Level with nine sticks at P480, which includes the classic kushikatsu (pork cutlet), prawn, tsukune (chicken meatball), chikuwa (fish cake) and Camembert cheese; while the Advance Level with 11 sticks (also at P480) includes gyoza, leeks, pork intestine, and chicken heart.
This writer got the Beginner Level set alongside a stick of foie gras and Japanese oyster and almost immediately upon serving, I found myself confused about which was which because all the breaded food looked roughly the same.
But I pressed on. Armed with the menu, I managed to somehow connect the photo in the menu to the platter in front of me (it was helpful that the menu points out which is which). I realized that this would be an interesting experience for people who like surprises and a frustrating exercise for those who don’t.
I fall in the middle of the spectrum so I was reasonably excited — yet frustrated. The first skewer I picked was the Camembert cheese whose earthy, nutty flavors paired well with the sweet, tangy dipping sauce.
The cheese and the kushikatsu and tonkatsu were the standouts in this platter as the pork cutlets were suitably tender, though the kushikatsu affords you a smaller cut of meat against the heartier tonkatsu.
It was when I took a bite of the foie gras that I realized that this is probably the unhealthiest meal I’ve had in recent memory because while the portion of the fatty duck liver is small, the combination of its oils and the oils in which it was fried in was almost too much for my fragile little heart. The oyster was also a bit of a miss as I realized I was not fond of fresh oysters with breading — the slimy and crunchy contrast was not something I would want to experience again.
Faced with the realization that I might have shortened my lifespan in the course of a single meal, I ordered a gyudon (beef over rice) for P330 with egg to soak up all the oil I’d accumulated in the last 15 minutes.
And it was quite possibly one of the best gyudons I’ve had (though a personal favorite will always be Botejyu’s gyudon) as the egg was cooked perfectly with a runny yolk and not-quite-set whites that coats the steaming rice. The beef was also tender and sweetness of the sauce (made using mirin, soy sauce, and dashi broth) was mild and not overpowering. (It seemed that the dish is a customer favorite as I heard several people order it while I was there.)
So if there was a clear winner in this lunch, it was certainly not my cardiovascular system — it was the rice bowl and my lipstick because it managed to stay put without any visible fading after eating such an oily lunch. (For those taking notes, I was wearing Maybelline Super Stay Matte Ink Liquid Lipstick [P299] in the shade Lover, a beautiful mauve pink.)
A piece of advice for those wanting to give this restaurant a try — eat in moderation and please do bring friends with you to share the oily, yet satisfying burden.
The next day, I committed to only eating vegetables and fruits to apologize to my body.
Kushikatsu Daruma is located on the second floor of Uptown Mall, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.