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Cheese tonkatsu ben­e­fits from the use of panko (Ja­panese bread­crumbs). De­signed to be less oil-ab­sorbent, panko also helps bring out added crisp­ness and colour to tra­di­tional dishes.

The Georgia Straight - - Best Of Vancouver -

s the say­ing goes, the best­laid plans of­ten go astray. But would it seem coun­ter­in­tu­itive if you didn’t want your restau­rant to be­come an in­stant suc­cess?

When the own­ers of Saku had their soft open­ing on June 19, they had hoped to take things slow. Gen­eral man­ager David Lim of LLH Eatery Inc. told the Ge­or­gia Straight at their West End premises that they didn’t do any pub­lic­ity or ad­ver­tis­ing, in or­der to al­low their staff some time to ease into things. But within a short pe­riod of time, they were serv­ing full houses. Word spread by mouth and so­cial me­dia. Din­ers be­gan queu­ing up out­side. The own­ers had a run­away hit on their hands.

Al­though LLH Eatery runs other lo­cal restau­rants—such as Asian taco shop Tako and Taishoken Ra­men (both on the edge of Chi­na­town)—lim said their pop­u­lar­ity took them by sur­prise. Mind you, the spot was primed for such a place, as the area is pop­u­lated by sev­eral eater­ies serv­ing Asian fried and com­fort food. Of course, it’s also dif­fi­cult to re­main low-key when the stylish ap­pear­ance piques the cu­rios­ity of passersby—es­pe­cially dur­ing the busiest sea­son in the West End for events, beach­go­ers, and vis­i­tors.

The room, which seats 20 (with 10 more on the pa­tio), fea­tures min­i­mal­ist de­sign by Rane In­te­ri­ors, with light­ing by de­signer Matthew Mccormick. The nu­anced retro dé­cor, with touches of Ja­panese de­sign in­flu­ences, main­tains a muted colour pal­ette but sus­tains enough vis­ual in­ter­est to re­main com­pelling. Lim ex­plained that they wanted to cre­ate a set­ting ac­ces­si­ble and ap­peal­ing to lo­cal din­ers within which

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from pre­vi­ous page to present the pop­u­lar Ja­panese dish tonkatsu, or deep-fried breaded pork cut­lets. Lim and the co-own­ers share a love for the yoshoku-style (or Ja­panese takes on west­ern food) meal and trav­elled across Ja­pan vis­it­ing restau­rants that spe­cial­ize in it.

In the past, Ja­panese restau­rants in Van­cou­ver have typ­i­cally of­fered a broad range of dishes on their menu, from tem­pura to teriyaki. As Van­cou­verites be­came more fa­mil­iar with Ja­panese cui­sine, es­tab­lish­ments also be­gan to fo­cus on spe­cific types of cui­sine or food, such as sushi, iza­kayas, or ra­men. With Saku, the own­ers wanted to zero in on one spe­cific type of dish, as many eater­ies do in Ja­pan.

The menu, de­signed by chef Yusuke Mat­sumoto from Osaka, of­fers six vari­a­tions on katsu sets ($15.50 to $18), all made with Cana­dian pork.

Two main choices are rosu (pork loin) and hire (pork fil­let) katsu. For some­thing a bit dif­fer­ent from those two op­tions, katsu nabe fea­tures pork loin mixed with egg, onion, and mush­room, with soup base and house­made sauce. Their sauce is made with seven veg­eta­bles and fruits, and white sesame (which of­fers a lighter flavour than black sesame). Mean­while, the curry for their curry katsu is made in-house with a blend of 14 veg­eta­bles and fruits.

A se­lec­tion added to the menu af­ter the grand open­ing (which was on July 23) is cheese katsu: deep-fried breaded and aged moz­zarella wrapped around thinly sliced pork loin. Veg­e­tar­i­ans can opt for veg­gie katsu, with tofu re­plac­ing the pork and ac­com­pa­nied by sea­sonal veg­eta­bles.

The se­cret is in the panko (Ja­panese-style bread crumbs). Lim ex­plains that they make their own panko at a lo­cal bak­ery, from their own recipe. It’s de­signed to be less oil-ab­sorbent to bring out tex­ture, crispi­ness, colour, and ap­pear­ance.

The menu does go be­yond katsu for those who may want some­thing else. Lim says they chose to of­fer udon be­cause they felt it paired well with tonkatsu and also pro­vided an al­ter­na­tive to ra­men (of which there’s no short­age in their neigh­bour­hood). How­ever, rather than us­ing the usual thick noo­dles, Saku of­fers thin­ner ones. Udon op­tions (from $10.50 to $11) in­clude kake (hot) and bukkake (cold), as well as curry. There are also side or­ders avail­able ($3.50 to $8), such as deep­fried scal­lops or jumbo prawns, deep­fried soft tofu, sea­sonal veg­eta­bles, and ex­tra serv­ings of tonkatsu.

In win­ter, Lim says they will add more sea­sonal dishes and are con­sid­er­ing a cream tonkatsu as well as us­ing kurobuta (Berk­shire) pork.

As they also want to em­pha­size cus­tomer ser­vice, Lim says they have a some­what slower turnover so they can cater to din­ers with care. That in­cludes of­fer­ing un­lim­ited re­fills (based on the for­mat of Ja­panese tonkatsu restau­rants) of rice, ton­jiru (soup with pork and miso), and shred­ded cab­bage for all katsu sets.

Con­se­quently, if you plan to go, re­mem­ber to fac­tor in some wait time. For, as goes with­out say­ing, good things come to those who wait.

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