Dining in Dairyland: Katsu-Ya

Katsu-Ya is a very special place. It is, however, a place to go only after you’ve budgeted for a couple weeks. It is located within walking distance, eight blocks from campus and a block closer than Walgreens. Although it is a bit difficult to find due to subdued signage, your success is rewarded by a welcoming statue of a wooden bear that must have been a fertility figure in a previous life. Katsu-Ya is also an extremely popular restaurant. And don’t think you can make a reservation for your Saturday-night date; they do not take reservations on Fridays or Saturdays. Instead, be prepared to wait for about an hour, as we did. For those who are over 21, they do have a strategically placed bar in the waiting and lounge area. If you are underage, you can still wait in the lounge area but must resign yourself to an hour of eavesdropping on Appleton gossip. However, if you go on a weeknight, it is generally quite easy to get a table, and you can make reservations Sunday through Thursday.

After walking down College Ave. in the snow, sleet, rain, wind or other uncomfortable kinds of Wisconsin weather, Katsu-Ya’s décor is as comforting as a maroon, umami-scented kitten lying on your face. Especially if that kitten occasionally wears enormous, terrifying samurai masks with glowing red eyes. It is warm and comforting in shades of black and rust. Huge, decorative metalwork fans separate some of the tables, and there is a sushi bar where you can watch the chefs at work. There are three different dining rooms at the restaurant. The first is the bar, lounge and waiting area where you can sit on tall chairs and listen to some variety of thumping music. The second is the yakiniku room which is composed of six yakiniku tables in a fairly large space. The tables seat eight, so you might be seated with someone else. The walls are decorated with enormous samurai masks. The third room is my favorite—most of the tables are bench tables separated by the above-mentioned giant fans. These tables are quiet, comfortable and private.

Katsu-Ya offers many different kinds of food. It offers a large variety of sushi, both traditional and modern kinds—my favorite is the spicy salmon. The sushi is delicious, and you do pay for that. The price may make it worthwhile to try the yakiniku dinners. For a fairly normal entrée price, you get a plate of pre-marinated meat or vegetables of your choice, a bowl of rice and dipping sauces. You then get to grill your own food on a grill that is built into your table. If you want to do this, tell the host or hostess when you ask for your table, as not all the tables have this facility. And finally, you can have a hibachi dinner. Hibachi, one of the more extreme forms of playing with your food, is where you and seven other people sit around a giant grill set into a table and watch a chef perform a combination of percussion, cookery and food acrobatics. This experience is quite expensive but is enjoyable and you get enough food to last several meals. Although these are the main types of food available, you can also get such things as tempura veggies and shrimp, salads and soba-noodle soups. All in all, Katsu-Ya is pretty pricey but it is worthwhile for a date, a celebration or a dinner with friends at the end of the year.