Over the past few years, Las Vegas chefs have been working overtime to break the stereotype of Japanese cuisine being primarily sushi and teppanyaki, bringing us various small specialty restaurants that represent a wider spectrum of what the Japanese people eat.
We have ramen houses, robata grills, izakayas, Japanese curry houses, kissatens (Japanese coffee shops), a kushiage (fried skewers) spot, and even a place that specializes in Japanese-style Italian food.
We can now add to that list a restaurant specializing in tonkatsu and related dishes.
If you’re unfamiliar with tonkatsu, it’s basically deep-fried pork cutlet, and is very popular in Japan. It can be made with either a thin tenderloin (hire katsu) or a thicker loin (rosu katsu). And it’s after this dish that the new Tonkatsu Kiyoshi on South Jones Boulevard takes its name.
The strip-mall restaurant is small, seating about 25 people at tables, and a handful more at a small bar. But it’s quaint and nicely decorated with Japanese art on the wall. The menu is limited, although it does offer a bit more than the two styles of tonkatsu ($10 and $12). Entrees also includes versions made with chicken (tori katsu, $9), shrimp (ebi fry katsu, $14) and salmon (salmon fry katsu, $14). Various combinations are also available ($14 - $15), and the pork loin can be ordered on a sandwich (katsu sando, $7), with curry rice (katsu curry, $12) or on rice with egg (katsu donburi, $9).
There are a handful of side orders/appetizers that include edamame ($2), shishito peppers ($4), cold tofu ($3) and Japanese potato salad ($3). And for dessert, they offer two flavors of ice cream (azuki bean and green tea, $2) and a melon cream soda float ($3.25).
While the main courses are fairly basic, a few simple directions may be needed to properly enjoy them. All of the entrée orders come with miso soup, a side of shredded cabbage, Japanese pickled onions, a dab of spicy mustard and a bowl of white rice. The soup doesn’t come with a spoon, and while I’m sure they’d be happy to bring you one, you’re better off just sipping from the bowl.
The condiments at each table are a bit more confusing: two covered bowls, a jar of small white cylinders, and several smaller empty bowls. In one of the covered bowls you’ll find sesame seeds, while the other holds a thick brownish-red liquid known as tonkatsu sauce. Assuming you like sesame seeds, you start by spooning some into an empty bowl and using one of the cylinders as a pestle to grind them into a fine powder.
Next, add some sauce, which tastes like a cross between barbecue and Worcestershire. If you want some heat, add a dab of the mustard, and stir everything with your chopsticks. This will be your dipping sauce for both your meat and your cabbage, spiced to your personal taste.
I’ve tried all of the fried preparations except the salmon, and they’ve all been pretty similar. The breading is light with very few spices, allowing the meat to speak for itself. The most flavorful of those meats are the two cuts of pork, with the hire katsu standing head-and-shoulders above the rosu katsu.
But even that hire katsu is a little bland without the sauce. Nonetheless, all of my orders have been perfectly cooked, with light crispy batter and moist juicy meat. The pork and chicken are quality cuts, the shrimp are huge, and the portions are all very large.
On my next visit, however, I’ll probably spend more time exploring the sides. So far, I’ve only tried the beef tataki ($6), which was amazing. The six flavorful slices of beef were just barely singed around the edges, juicy and bright pink in the center. In contrast to the fried dishes, I barely used the accompanying ponzu sauce.
Tonkatsu Kiyoshi reminds me of the beach town seafood houses my parents took me to as a kid, where everything was fried. It’s not that they weren’t good, but I eventually developed a taste for more sophisticated preparations. In the same way, the offerings here are all tasty, but far less interesting than the many other styles of Japanese cooking being offered in town. But it’s done extraordinarily well, with enough small touches to make the meal memorable. Throw in a super-friendly staff, cute little dining room and very reasonable prices, and it makes a nice addition to our growing Japanese dining scene.
Tonkatsu Kiyoshi, 7780 South Jones Boulevard, 702-837-7300. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene on Al Mancini’s blog, www.almancini.net and follow him on Twitter @almancinivegas.