Thursday, November 23, 2006

japanese: i strongly recommend SABOTEN

Mitsukoshi Tien Mu, 7th FL
No. 68, TienMu East Road
Taipei, Taiwan
(02) 2874-3971

Mitsukoshi XinYi, A9, 6th FL
No. 9, Song Shou Road
Taipei 110 Taiwan


date visited: 10/22/2006 and 11/11/2006

so delicious

I've eaten a lot of tonkatsu. Most of the time, I thought, wow, that was pretty good tonkatsu. But after tonight, I felt like- you have not had the ultimate tonkatsu experience until you have eaten here! From waiting to get a table to figuring out everything on the table, to me, it was a little bit like unraveling a mystery.

quite an intimidating line

When we got there, around 8ish pm, there was a lot of people waiting outside. I went inside and asked how it worked- did I take a number? leave a name?- but it was pretty simple, you just "wait in line." I went back out and figured out where the end of the line was, along the wall with the row of chairs, and waited. And surprisingly, it moved pretty quickly. We probably were seated within 10 minutes of waiting after playing musical chairs- getting up and sitting down repeatedly, every time a new party was seated.

You also order while you wait in line, so that the food comes a little faster after you are seated and drooling over the menu and trying to decide makes the time waiting in line seem like nothing. Unfortunately, the menu is ONLY in Chinese and Japanese. But it does have a lot of pictures and there are the pretty plastic models in the window near the entrance.

browsing the menu while waiting

or you could check out your plastic options in the window

But I was still thankful to have someone who read Chinese with me because there were a lot of different selections. There were different cuts of the pork, there's plain tonkatsu, curry tonkatsu, mushroom tonkatsu, tonkatsu with cheese, tempura shrimp... lots of various choices and set menus. The average set is around NT$320-$390, so it's definitely more expensive than your average mall tonkatsu, but it's worth it!

Once we decided- curry tonkatsu for me, plain tonkatsu for him, a set of deep fried shrimp to share- and we seated, I explored the various things on the table.

I saw a small bowl of black and white sesame seeds, a short fat wooden stick, some dipping sauces and pretty quickly our free all-you-can-eat shredded cabbage came.

what the heck is the stick for?

left: japanese mustard, right: tonkatsu sauce

pickled vegetables and radish, and all you can eat shredded cabbage!

My friend had seen how to do it from a magazine review, so I followed his lead in using the stick to grind the sesame into the serrated bowl to add to the tonkatsu sauce. I asked my friend, Why? Can't I just add the whole sesame seeds over the top? He said, Smell the difference between your whole sesame seeds and my grinded up seeds.

getting to work

And to my surprise, there was a BIG difference. Crushing the seeds released a slightly nutty sesame aroma that aroused my palate. Mixing it into the tonkatsu sauce gave it a richer, deeper flavor that went well with the tender, perfectly fried cutlet.

my curry tonkastu set comes with miso soup

The tonkatsu is not greasy while being perfectly crispy. One cut of the pork is a bit leaner and drier, while the other cut is more tender and chewy.

deep fried shrimp and tonkatsu

We ordered a dessert because we didn't know our set menus already came with a scoop of ice cream, otherwise we wouldn't have ordered it... but the green tea ice cream did have more interesting flavor.

green tea ice cream with red beans

set menu vanilla ice cream

My friend said he had heard about this place for over 3 years, but we never made our way there. Then a few weeks later we discovered that there was another location at the Xin Yi Mitsukoshi and decided to try it at a later date. This time, we waited 45 (!!) minutes. Being seasoned customers, we went directly to the end of the line though it was hard to tell where it was since it was broken in a couple places. After waiting in line for about 20 minutes or so, we amused ourselves by watching the shock and surprise appear on faces of new people who tried to get a seat by going to the hostess and was sent to find the end of the line (which now snaked around all the way to the back near some elevators).

The tonkatsu was still great, even though the experience was no longer new. The service still efficient, the sesame still left to be ground by yourself. The only complaint I had is that the green tea ice cream that came with our set course was not freshly scooped, but pre-scooped and refrozen into an icy ball that no longer had that aromatic flavor. It's also weird that since eating there, I've heard about other people raving about it and about their rite of passage of waiting an hour or so for their japanese style fried pork. So take a magazine, your ipod, or have someone in your family hold your place in line while you shop, and head over to Saboten- just hopefully not on the day that I'm waiting in line.


Chubbypanda said...

Those feathery bits on the tonkatsu look all crunchy and delicious. I can practically taste the deep fried goodness.

- Chubbypanda

Anonymous said...

Mmm ... I've been there, and I really enjoyed !

abstractpoet said...

This place sounds good - I'm right near Mitsukoshi, so I'll be sure to check it out. Which building is it in? And what are the prices like?

ZZ said...

Saboten is popular in Japan, in particular around Tokyo. Before I moved to Taipei, I was in Tokyo, so I often visited there.

joanh said...

hi everyone! thanks for the comments!

chubbypanda- it was good! is there good tonkatsu in the OC?

michael- cool! anywhere else you have been that i've reviewed?

luke- sorry i didn't say before in my rush to post (i've now revised it) A9 Mitsukoshi Xin Yi on the 6th FL.. as for prices.. about $320-$390 NT, so $10-12 US.

ztaro- cool! it's good to know that the quality/taste is good even though it's a chain!

Chubbypanda said...

Hey Joan,

There are definitely a number of places with good tonkatsu in the OC. I'll try to review one sometime soon.

- Chubbypanda

Roger said...

Teehee! I was here two years ago. Best tonkatsu I've had to date, though the fried "chicken steaks"(literal translation) from good street vendors hits the spot too!

Candy said...

I love going to Saboten to eat their tonkatsu everytime I go back to Taiwan!