Review: Izawa (이자와)

Katsu, or cutlet, is a Japanese dish that's just about everyone's favorite (with the exception of our vegetarian friends). Pork, occasionally fish or shrimp, are the standard meat used but the place I'm introducing today is a little unusual because it uses beef. 

Kyukatsu literally means beef katsu and it's what Izawa is best known for. With branches in Hongdae, Myeongdong, and I heard even Busan, Jeju, and elsewhere, it's been somewhat of mild trend the last few years following their popularity bump in neighboring Japan. 

While katsu ala beef may sound nothing too earth-shattering it's different from other katsus in that it's served rare- something no restaurant would probably want to attempt with pork or chicken.

Essentially their two main menu items are the kyukatsu (the beef katsu) and the stekidon (steak over rice). For both items, they stress they use the freshest beef available, though there isn't much specification beyond that.

As a sign of their popularity with couples, they have a series of set options available- with all set options being a 2 person meal.

1 kyukatsu and 1 stekidon + a small sized soft drink is 23K.
2 kyukatsu + a small sized soft drink is 25K.
2 stekidon + a small sized drink is 21K.

But interestingly, if you look at the regular price for these menu items ala carte, it's actually not a savings at all. 1 kyukatsu set for one person is 12K (160g) while 1 stekidon set for one person is 10K.

The kyukatsu single serving set comes with kyukatsu, cabbage salad, rice, miso soup, wasabi, soy sauce, katsu sauce, and kimchi. For those who are hungry, they can opt for the larger kyukatsu set which is 20K for 250g.

The single serving stekidon set comes with cabbage salad, miso soup, and kimchi. The stekidon, like any "don" dish, comes over rice,

They also have another menu item which is a eggplant and beef stir fry over rice for 8K and comes with onion rings, cabbage salad, miso soup, and kimchi. The onion ring is a bit of a loop as it's not included in the other menu items. I'm not sure about this dish though as I had yet to see anyone order it but it's by far the cheapest menu option!

As I mentioned, the menu description specifies the beef they use for both the kyukatsu and the stekidon is of the best quality but interestingly their origin is specified as New Zealand. Not to say that New Zealand doesn't have fine beef but to say they use the freshest beef available for what are definitely import cuts is quite intriguing. The pork is also from Chile (although now thinking back, I don't know what dish the pork goes into) while the rice and kimchi is from Korea.

The kyukatsu (single, regular-sized serving) comes looking like a regular donkatsu meal although the katsu in this case is definitely smaller in scale. For Koreans who care a lot about price value, I'm not sure why they don't use a smaller plate so the katsu doesn't look so small.

On closer inspection though the kyukatsu starts to show some differences from Japanese-style donkatsu. First, the breading is quite small. Instead of larger sized panko crumbs that gives it a good crunch, the breading is finer and, subsequently, the crunch factor is largely absent.

As promised, the beef within is a medium rare showing the juicy, pink, center hidden within the crust.

There is no option on how you want your beef cooked, only medium rare, but they provide a side mini "pan" of sorts that's lighted by a candle. Atop this, you can place a section of the beef to cook (they recommend no longer than 60 seconds) to cook more.

In addition to their two house sauces (one a soy sauce-based sauce and the other with a bit of a kick) they provide wasabi on the side. The wasabi is definitely a step above the store-bought, squeeze tube kind and is meant to offset the richer, fattier beef flavors.

The first two or three bites were curious at first but after that the reason the wasabi and house sauces provided were more clear- despite the smaller quantity, this is a substantially heavy dish. Not only is the beef cut a more fattier, richer cut that's left mostly in a raw state but I wasn't a fan of its overall frying. 

While I respect their frying know-how to keep the crust intact while a perfectly medium-rare inside, I suspect the frying method keeps the temperature of the oil lower than what is normally used for deep frying which means the finer breading soaks up more grease. 

Soaked up greasy crust + a fattier cut of raw beef makes for quite a dense feeling in the stomach as you eat. 

The stekidon set is similar in looks with the kyukatsu set.

The beef in this dish comes from the same cut but is given a quick cook on the outside before cutting, tataki style. Then a simple soy sauce dressing, fried garlic, and chopped scallions is placed atop. 

This dish is also quite a heavy hitter. And this one doesn't come with the little mini "pan" like the kyukatsu set comes with so those who are averse to rare cuts of meat will especially find this dish not to their liking.  

I was quite keen on trying this dish but found what I had at Izawa more of an intriguing novelty than anything that was particularly noteworthy. In fact, the main dishes were surprisingly heavy and not really satiating either a proper beef or katsu craving.

Granted, this has been the first and only kyukatsu I've tried so it could be much better elsewhere but in the kind from Izawa it may be worth an exploratory meal for those who are curious but it's not one that merited repeat visit or extended interest for myself.

Address (for the branch I visited):
서울특별시 성북구 동소문로22길 57-23
57-23, Dongsomun-ro 22-gil, Seongbuk-gu, Seoul, Korea

Come out of exit 1 of Sungshin Womens' University Station and walk about 20 meters until you get to Dongsamun-ro 22-gil and turn right. Walk straight about 300 meters until you get to Dongsamun-ro 22-gil and turn left. Walk straight for about 100 meters and you'll see Izawa on your left.




Beer available

Branches are found in Sinsa, Myeongdong, Gangnam, Gyodae, Yongsan's IPark Mall, and many more all around Korea.