“Fried Footballs” at Maekawa

Trying to digest an International District disaster.

What: A genton. Where: Maekawa Bar, 601 S. King St., No. 206. INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT Cost: $5.50 Would I eat it again? Not without backup. Official Tasting Notes: Maekawa's izakaya menu stresses carbohydrate-and-fat-heavy small plates to go with heavy drinking. Every dish that arrived at our table on the night I visited seemed to be a rearrangement of the one that came before: pork, egg, cheese, deep-fryer oil. What wasn't standard was the monstrosity these dishes were building up to: a titanic genton. There's some confusion over the name. "Genton" is shorthand for a type of deep-fried pork cutlet that is genki, meaning energetic, enthusiastic, or healthy. Yet "genton" rolls off the tongue sounding like one of Godzilla's enemies, and after eating it, I swear that's a more accurate association. It does not make you genki. It doesn't even look genki. It looks like a fried football. The meal began with a plate of kakuni, or hunks of boiled pork and a soft-boiled egg in sweet broth. The soft pork was striated with layers of melting fat, like a mille-feuille made from meat, and tasted wonderful. A rich, fishy omelet topped with mayo and spicy roe outdid any brunch omelet I've had in the past year, and the isobe age, or fried fish cakes, came with a helping of fish-stick nostalgia. My hunger was strong when I sensed a slight gravitational pull toward the kitchen—the birth of a genton. As it approached on the waitress' tray, the genton seemed to bear a turbulent aura that wanted to hurl chairs and kick over tables. It was oddly without character on the plate, presenting itself as a golden, inscrutable orb. I had to work like a lumberjack with my knife to crack its crunchy rind. When I did manage to gain entry, a cloud of pungent steam and orange slurry burbled upward. A genton, it turns out, is a slab of pork that's been spread with cheese and garlic slices, then manhandled into a jelly roll and fried. A bowl of tangy tonkatsu sauce is its sidekick. The taste is reminiscent of one of the more calorific items on a Wendy's menu: mild chicken with notes of salt and oil. It's the ideal stoner food—indeed, there was one red-eyed fellow at the next table who appeared to be vicariously chewing along with me—but the genton is so heavy that downing the whole thing wouldn't end well even for Norville "Shaggy" Rogers. I shared mine, but 24 hours later could still feel it oppressing my appetite like a sumo wrestler sitting on an 80-pound weakling.

 
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