Yakitori Totto

A few months ago when I was heavy into listening to audio books on my walks, I was able to borrow Anthony Bourdain’s Medium Raw from the library. Much less lauded than Kitchen Confidential, it was still a titillating listen, with Bourdain tearing a strip into many well-known chefs and their restaurants. Part of the book relays an enjoyable dinner that Bourdain had with Momofuku chef David Chang at Yakitori Totto. I’ve never been to Japan, and at the time of listening, had never been to a yakitori restaurant, so Bourdain’s excitement about the parade of skewers had me thinking about how and when I might make it to Totto.  I knew that Torishin is often considered the better place for yakitori, but its location on the East side is often considered no man’s land in my world. Totto is a negligible subway ride away.

The same negligible subway ride away is theater district/Times Square hell.  A ticket to see one of my 90s boyfriends, Ewan MacGregor, on Broadway was the easy excuse to try Totto. The location made it very easy to walk to the play afterward. It also made it possible for me to make a reservation, as they only take ones for early diners and that would be required of me to make curtain call. Tight, small, and up a flight of stairs, the atmosphere was provided more by the bustle of people than anything else I can remember about decor. As a solo diner, I got to sit at the bar, and it afforded me a view of the men minding the requisite grills.

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Seasoned vegetables in light broth

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Onigiri skewer

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Chicken liver

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Chicken oyster and thigh

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Shishito peppers

Although the menu is filled with many non-yakitori items, my main interest for being there was the grilled skewers. From what I’ve learned, yakitori is traditionally predominated by chicken and its various parts. My only deviations were a starter that consisted of the most perfectly steamed vegetables in a light broth and a forgettable chicken bun. The rest of my meal was composed of 10 skewers, some of which were doubles of things I liked best from the first round of ordering: the rice/onigiri, the chicken liver, and the chicken meatball/tsukune. The chicken oyster appears on the list for hot commodity items. These items sell out quickly each night, and it’s likely that you can only order one at a time because of limited numbers. The oyster is a small piece of delicious dark meat. But there are only two oysters per chicken, so my skewer of three highlights the rarity of the item. The liver was rich and as always to me, tasted like the true essence of dark meat. The onigiri had a bit of a crisped exterior with a soft, sticky center. The miso sauce on top was the right salty hit. The shishito peppers were a bit of a letdown. Next time (I have a date with Larry David on Broadway next month), I will instead try the shishitos stuffed with the meatball mix. I tried a bacon-wrapped mochi skewer, and it just tasted like chewy salt. In a boring way. Beer was a worthy accompaniment. Based on observation, I don’t think I made any de-skewering faux pas. It was relatively easy to remove items from the skewers with chopsticks, and when in doubt, a little lollipop action was not inappropriate.

Oh and no, I didn’t go for any of the adventurous chicken parts like the tail, neck, or knee bone. I’m wary of their textures. When I think of such parts, I think of cartilage. And when I think of cartilage I think of a human ear or nose. I’m not so into what might be a long mastication of crunchy-chewy. A sound choice in the end, though. I couldn’t risk chewing too long when Ewan was waiting for me.

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