Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Verdict: Yabu vs. Saboten

The ramen battle of Manila is still ongoing with Japanese noodle houses sprouting faster than you can say banzai!  Next on the ring is katsu.

Yabu, our go-to place for katsu, remained unrivalled for over a year.  Its first branch at SM Megamall doubled in size after only a few months but the lines are still there and growing.  The 2nd branch at the Robinson's Magnolia mall has a queueing system with an electronic pager, allowing you to walk around the mall while you wait.  It is a wait that can take an hour or more on a busy day, a wait that most people are willing to take.  Yabu has now grown to 4 branches around the city, a sure sign that things are going very well.

Yabu now has a worthy rival.  Saboten, which first opened its doors in 1966 in Shinjuku, Tokyo, claims to be the largest tonkatsu chain with over 500 shops in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada, China and now, the Philippines.  Part of that claim is having the original tonkatsu flavor, whatever that means.  They opened at the Atrium of Serendra and after several attempts, we finally got to try it.

Just like Yabu, seating is on a first-come-first serve basis only.  No reservations are accepted.  Definitely a wise policy for a busy restaurant.  We went early this time but not early enough.  We ended up sitting outside, an area which definitely felt like the second best seats of the house.  Thank goodness it was a cool day and there were no flying pests.

The menu was easy to navigate, with lots of photos to spare you from guessing.  There were a lot of rolled cutlets - stuffed with asparagus, stuffed with crab cream, stuffed with plum.  They did look tempting but in the end, we decided to have what we came for - tonkatsu.  
I ordered the Grated Radish Katsu Loin Set, crisp katsu topped with a generous portion of grated radish.  It came with a slice of grapefruit that I had to squeeze over the katsu and citrusy ponzu sauce.  The katsu was tender and crisp to the bite.  The radish and the ponzu helped cut the fat resulting in a lighter and fresher flavor.  Together with bites of radish and cucumber pickles, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Next time though, I think I will order the tenderloin version.

Enky had the Clay Pot Tenderloin Set, tonkatsu simmered in onions, sauce and egg with the rice served separately.  I thought it was a modern version of katsudon but writer-friend Rene Guatlo corrected me and said that it was katsuni.  The tenderloin meat was much better than the loin that I had and certainly worth the small premium you pay for.  Enky and I agreed though that we like the katsudon version of Yabu better.
Yabu's Katsudon meal

To compare:

What I like about Yabu:
  1. Quick, efficient, fuss free service
  2. Kurubota pork option
  3. Hiroshima oysters available
  4. A softer crunch to the bite
What I like about Saboten:
  1. Unlimited Japanese pickles and miso soup
  2. Grated Radish Katsu
As you can infer, the winner is YABU!  I must qualify though, that even if I think Yabu is better overall,  I would go back to Saboten for the Grated Radish Tenderloin Set.  

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