(Mini-)Food Report: Yabaton (Esca Branch, Nagoya)

13Feb14 Yabaton Miso Katsu Nagoya Japan 005

Regular readers might be scratching their heads over the “mini” prefix in this post’s title, but I’ll have more to say on that later. For the moment, the task at hand is to savour one of Nagoya’s signature dishes, miso katsu.

OVERVIEW

Name? Yabaton, JR Nagoya Station Esca Branch (矢場とん 名古屋駅エスカ店).

Date of visit? 13 February 2014.

Speciality? Miso katsu (tonkatsu served with a miso-flavoured sauce).

Where? This particular branch is located in the northwestern corner of the Esca underground mall, directly beneath JR Nagoya Station. At the time of writing, it was labelled as store number 38 on this map (note that the numbering might change without notice).

Operating hours? 11:00-22:00 (last order 21:30).

How much? Mains from about 1,000 to 1,900 yen.

English menu? Can’t remember if they had one at the restaurant itself, but you can refer to the English descriptions on the official website.

Links? The official English webpage is here. The ever-reliable Tabelog also has a comprehensive write-up on the store, though it helps if you know a little Japanese.

DIEGO’S EXPERIENCE

Right, so about that “mini” in the title . . .

I was actually debating with myself on whether to publish this as a separate food report, or fold it into the relevant field report covering the date of my visit. This particular experience – as you’ll see in a moment – wasn’t really a standard restaurant visit, so my perspective was somewhat limited and gave me little to write about. (For comparison, click here to read one of my standard, detailed food reports.) In the end, I’ve decided to create a new sub-category of food report for brief, buy-and-go visits such as these, thereby allowing me to craft individual posts even for quick foodie experiences like take-aways and street stalls.

All right, enough about that. On to the food!

Like many of Japan’s major cities, Nagoya has its own long list of homegrown delicacies. Some of them were, regrettably, off-limits to me for one reason or another (allergies, chicken-wing phobia, a deep-seated loathing of seafood, etc.), but one particular option seemed to tick all the boxes in a good way: miso katsu. Meaty, deep-fried, and with nary a hint of fruits de mer or avian flight appendage.

A quick search brought up one place that’s famous for miso katsu: Yabaton. They’re a fairly large chain with over a dozen restaurants to their name, one of which was located right under JR Nagoya Station (a short walk from my hotel) and appropriately signposted with the image of a portly porker dressed as a sumo wrestler.

13Feb14 Yabaton Miso Katsu Nagoya Japan 001

The restaurant was packed – it’s a well-known chain so I was expecting this – but there was a takeaway counter set up by the entrance (no doubt catering mainly to rushing travellers in need of ekiben).

13Feb14 Yabaton Miso Katsu Nagoya Japan 002

I was a little worn out after my long day of sightseeing, so I was in no mood to squeeze myself into a restaurant that was pretty much packed to the rafters. On the other hand, I only had half a day (i.e., the next morning) left in Nagoya before moving on to Tōkyō, and I didn’t want to leave without sampling at least one of the local specialities. My compromise: I ordered a miso katsu bentō from the takeaway counter and beat a hasty retreat to the warmth and comfort of my hotel room.

It should be clear now why I can’t write a full food report here. I didn’t get to see much of the restaurant itself, and of course the meal would not have been quite as fresh and hot as if I’d enjoyed it on the premises.

So, let’s have a look at tonight’s dinner.

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Unwrapped and unlidded, the boxed meal looked pretty much like any other tonkatsu set one might buy from a corner stall . . .

13Feb14 Yabaton Miso Katsu Nagoya Japan 004

. . . but what made it distinctively Nagoyan is the dark brown sauce that came in a tiny plastic bottle (not shown here). Let’s pour that on now.

13Feb14 Yabaton Miso Katsu Nagoya Japan 005

Now we’ve got miso katsu.

As for my assessment . . . mm, mixed. A good and hearty meal overall, but nothing spectacular, and the miso-based sauce that was supposedly the star of the show didn’t pack quite as much punch and flavour as I’d have liked. Still, one must bear in mind that this was a takeaway, consumed in less-than-ideal circumstances. Perhaps if I’d had the meal onsite – with the tonkatsu piping hot and the sauce freshly drizzled on top – the flavours and textures might have been very different indeed.

But not bad, not bad at all. I’d happily try it again the next time I’m in Nagoya – and hopefully on the premises this time!

UPDATE (12 June 2016): I was in Nagoya last weekend and finally got to try Yabaton’s signature dish on-site, fresh from the fryer and drenched in a lot more miso-based sauce. As expected, it was better than the takeaway version … in fact, I enjoyed it so much that I visited their branch at Centrair Airport just to have another taste before my flight back home. I’ll write about those experiences in due course, but for the moment I’d happily mark miso katsu as highly recommended.

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