The original plan for the lead-up to Labor Day was to head on to Ace Water Spa for some much longed-for and seriously much hankered after therapy. Unfortunately, a bit of ill-health and the usual stresses all came into play and my date with the spa will have to be moved to yet another day. On Labor Day itself (today), I decided to give myself a break and hauled both my brother and sister off for some serious eats – and oh, what eats!
“Have you been to Yabu?” my brother asked a few days before.
“The tonkatsu joint?” I replied. ”Nope, but I hear it’s been getting really good press - and I saw your pictures on Facebook.”
That Yabu House of Katsu has been getting good press is an understatement: do a Google search for Yabu House of Katsu and you get over twenty pages of hits, mostly restaurant reviews and blog posts from happy, satisfied customers. So, with all that glowing praise in mind, we trotted off to Yabu’s newest branch in our neck of southern suburbia (SM Southmall in Las Pinas, just a couple jeepney rides away) for a spot of lunch.
Once you’ve been seated at your table, notice that there is a nice selection of condiments: three tall bottles of salad dressing – beige sesame (goma), pale green wasabi, and a soy (shoyu) vinaigrette, bottles of chili oil, shichimi togarashi [seven-spice powder], and shiso (pepper mixed with delicately floral shiso leaf), a salt pig, and a jug of house-blended tonkatsu sauce.
The dressings are there for the unlimited helpings of shredded cabbage that come with most of the items on the Yabu menu, pretty much allowing you to make your own coleslaw. They’re pretty ace dressings, too: the sesame is deliciously sweet and nutty, the soy vinaigrette pleasantly tangy, and the wasabi is creamy with just enough nose-tingling kick to make it interesting.
And then, this is brought to your table:
You get a mortar of toasted black and white sesame seeds with a shiso-wood pestle that you’re supposed to hand-grind (not pound, hence the grooves in the bowl) till the intense, nutty aroma comes out. Afterwards, you add about a couple wee ladlefuls of the house-blend sauce, plus a sprinkle of salt from the piggy, and your choice of sparkers. (I opted for the shiso powder; it lent a delicately floral tang and a subtle heat to my sauce.)
Once you’re all set, whet your appetite with some appetizers. For P 195.00, you get a choice of two off the menu. I’d say go for the wakame salad which is absolutely refreshing and tastes deliciously fresh with a mix of wakame seaweed, sesame seeds, a hint of salt, and tobiko (cod roe). Edamame (green soybean pods) are also nice, but we seriously prefer the chive-sprinkled spin on potato salad.
As this is the House of Katsu, you should definitely order the tonkatsu. (I question the culinary integrity of anyone who even thinks about ordering the bloody vegetarian platter! There’s one on the menu, but really…) The house specialty is kurobuta - the creamy-colored, beautifully marbled, exquisitely tender pork from the fabled Japanese black pigs. Yabu pitches this premium meat as the “wagyu of pork”, an appellation that does it little justice because it is a far sweeter, more tender, utterly moreish sort of meat that shouldn’t be compared to any other.
As the kurobuta cuts are a touch on the pricey side, first-timers would do well to opt for the regular tonkatsu just to take measure of Yabu’s capabilities. You are given the choice between rosu (a slightly fatty loin cut) and hire (trimmed pork tenderloin). I’d say go for the former: the fat gives a savory edge to the sweet, tender meat which is covered by a thin, crispy, golden panko crust. Having been drained properly after frying, the cutlet isn’t greasy at all and the crunchy outside gives way to the delectable softness within. Definitely the gold standard for tonkatsu in my book…
If you’re more of a burger-and-fries sort, my sister’s menchi katsu set is definitely for you. Menchi katsu is a thickish patty of ground pork and beef, rolled in breadcrumbs, and deep-fried. In most versions of the dish, mashed potatoes are added as an extender; in this case, however, the mixed mince is wrapped around a core of cheese that melts and oozes unctuously. The patty itself is nicely seasoned and the texture tender without being mushy.
My brother went for the chicken katsu curry which features a tender chicken cutlet drenched in a mildly hot Japanese curry. As with all the rest of our orders, the curry came with miso soup, Japanese pickles (takuan [sweet pickled radish] and cucumber), refillable bowls of rice (the wait-staff will come ’round to your table with a clay pot of it), the previously mentioned unlimited shredded cabbage, and bowls of fruit for dessert. (Incidentally, both the pineapple and watermelon slices we got with our meals were beautifully sweet and perfectly ripe.)
Normally, I don’t believe much of the hype that revolves around most new restaurants, but Yabu definitely deserves all the praise it has received and I sincerely hope the quality remains great and consistent.