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Butagumi

Review excerpt: Gourmet tonkatsu. It sounds like a contradiction in terms, as implausible as haute cuisine hot dogs or Michelin-starred jellied eels. Surely those breaded, deep-fried “cutlets” of pork can be nothing but comfort food: fatty, filling and reassuringly easy on the budget.

Try telling that to the folks at Butagumi. They take this humble staple and elevate it to hitherto unheard of levels of refinement. What’s different? Just about everything.

First, there’s the neighborhood. This low-lying residential enclave just north of the Nishi-Azabu Crossing is still far from swank, but it’s gentrifying rapidly and has the restaurants to prove it. Butagumi — literally the “Pig Gang” — fits the new, affluent demographic comfortably.

It occupies a cozy, timber-frame house, just two stories high, that has stood on this spot since 1958. Before being reincarnated in restaurant form two years ago, it was given a total refurbishment both inside and out: A quaint crescent-moon window has been cut into the wall on the second floor; the gabled porch is supported by rustic posts; the door, appropriated from some sturdy farmhouse, is flanked by a squat, metal andon lamp and purified by two small cones of salt. Just in case you might be wondering if you have come to the wrong address, the coarsely woven white curtain that hangs at the entrance is helpfully emblazoned with the word “tonkatsu” in katakana.