Episode 59: Ryback Weekend 3

Once again I found myself at the receiving end of a draining, stress-filled weekend at work, and so it was decided that a good weekend feast is in order. (I know some people think this is unhealthy, but c’mon, allow me this one luxury to de-stress myself, you know?)

There’s a bunch of new restaurants at SM North EDSA that I haven’t explored yet, one of which is Arafu Cafe at the main mall’s third floor. It’s a welcome addition to the hundreds of Japanese food spots in Metro Manila, although this place is all about home-cooked comfort food.

From what I gathered, Arafu Cafe started as a food delivery service for Japanese expats at Bonifacio Global City. The business, owned by Ms. Manami Maejima, soon developed into a restaurant at The Fort, and because of its following, a second branch found its way into SM North EDSA.

Instead of the usual Japanese fare, Arafu Cafe boasts of its hamburger steaks (or should we say “hamburg/hanbagu”) as its specialty. Yes, Barangay Ginebra, it’s their version of the Salisbury steak. The Japanese version is usually made from ground meat (pork and beef) with finely chopped onions, egg and breadcrumbs flavored with various spices. It’s a favorite bento dish, especially for kids, as well as a lunch treat in fastfood restaurants.

My lunch/dinner was a Tawara Hamburg Steak, served with refillable rice and clear soup.

The Tawara Hamburg Steak is think, succulent, and soft, not like the usual melt-in-your-mouth steaks, but with a noticeably meaty goodness. You can feel a juicy and rich flavor being unleashed in your palate in every bite. By the way, the hamburg steaks here are usually served with either the subtly-flavored demi-glace sauce, or the Japanese sauce to enhance the taste.

I also ordered as a side dish some Dashimaki Tamago or tamagoyaki – egg rolls served with grated daikon radish and soy sauce, another lunchtime staple. It’s different from the tamagoyaki I’ve tried in other places – soft, almost watery, lightly flavored but filling.

The last part of the meal was a cup of cappuccino and a marble cookie, a sweet ending to a savory meal.

Thanks to Arafu Cafe, I’m adding hamburg steak to my list of Japanese comfort food (along with omurice, ramen and sushi, among others). Rice meals like this are served quick and easy to enjoy.  Now that I remember it, I got a Tonkatsu Combo, which makes it two comfort food choices in one plate. They also have combos with fried chicken, ebi furai (shrimp), and smoked sausage, by the way.

Speaking of tonkatsu…

Arafu Cafe – SM City North EDSA

Third Floor, Main Building, SM City North EDSA
Phone: (02) 4410268

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Yabu House of Katsu is said to be one of the restaurants that brought the katsu craze in the Philippines. Okay, we can consider this high-end katsu, according to our wallets, at least, but it still attracted a lot of local foodies.

Yabu boasts that its katsu is made through the expertise of katsu specialist, Chef Kazuya Takeda of Tonkatsu Takeshin, one of the best tonkatsu restaurants in Tokyo. This place has been around for a while, but it was only very recently when I was able to treat myself to any of their specialties. Long story. Question is, what made their katsu so popular?

My target was Yabu’s branch at The Block at SM North EDSA. For my dinner, I ordered their specialty dish, the Kurobota Pork Set. When they said it’s a big, succulent slab of premium pork cutlet, they weren’t kidding!

Before I forget, I also got spme appetizer – hiyayakku tofu and a potato and egg salad. They’re heavy!

The cutlet comes with Yabu’s signature katsu sauce, which is served before you get to eat. You are then asked to perform some sort of pre-dining ritual – you grind some toasted sesame seeds with a mini mortar and pestle and then mix it with the katsu sauce. The finer the ground seeds, the tastier the sauce, so they say.

The pork is covered in a light coating of panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) and are fried to a crispy finish. The meat is juicy and so tender and soft that it’s easy to bite on. All of Yabu’s katsu sets are served with unlimited Japanese rice, miso soup, shredded cabbage and a bowl of fruit.

I was mistaken when I thought the premium pork cutlet was tasty because it had less fat and more meat. The server pointed out that it was, in fact, the fattiest in the menu. It’s just that the fat is really packed in with the meat, which enhances the flavor. The cutlet isn’t your typical melt-in-your-mouth type – it actually feels coarse and crunchy in your palate – but it’s the flavor that makes every bite worth it.
The glutton in me decided I wanted to try more of Yabu’s products, so several minutes later, into my table came a la carte servings of salmon cutlets and potato croquettes. I also ordered some of their sake. Woo-hoo.

Despite being expensive, people flock to Yabu, and for good reason. Despite being a mere cutlet house, everyone likes their katsu, be it pork, chicken, or seafood. Then there’s the unlimited rice and soup (you can never go wrong with unlimited rice). Lastly, it’s probably the feel of partaking in something as authentic as ramen or sushi, luxurious as it is.

If I get the chance, I’d get one of their katsudon varieties. Have I mentioned I developed a love for katsudon? They say policemen feed it to criminals to make them confess, and students eat it before exams as a morale booster. For me, it’s just a rice bowl worth enjoying, plain and simple, though I’ve tried a lot of katsudon from other stores. I’ll reserve that for another story.

Yabu: House of Katsu
SM The Block
2/F The Block, SM City North EDSA

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