Third time’s a charm it would seem for solidifying that a night on Broadway involves yakitori for dinner. Not really being one for the theatre, I splurge on tickets when I want to see a favourite celebrity in the flesh for an hour or two. That becomes almost the only reason I go, because I am so distracted by the star that I rarely remember the name of the play. So, it’s easier for me to tell you that yakitori nights are because I saw Ewan MacGregor, Larry David, and Clive Owen. You’d be disappointed to hear what I could manage to say about the plays.
Third time is also a charm because instead of heading back to Yakitori Totto, I made a reservation at Torishin. By far the better choice when it comes to yakitori quality. The atmosphere is not as lively, the room not as packed, but on the flipside, there is that element of quiet authority and austerity that is often felt in revered Japanese restaurants. That’s not to say that it’s cold, as you get warm saluations from everyone as you enter and leave, but the décor and price separate it from the bustling casualness of Totto and its notorious waits. Torishin also brings you much closer to the action when you sit along the counter. At Totto, the chefs who man the charcoal grills are elevated and feel removed from you. You still don’t get to see the skewers cooking at Torishin, but your chef is much closer, like at a sushi bar; close enough to converse and easily pass you each course and close enough for you to watch them fan the coals. And also like at a sushi bar, the chef has the ability to watch you eat, watch you deciding how you will remove the pieces of chicken from the skewer and maneuver the chopsticks. I will always be self-conscious eating with chopsticks in front of those who grew up with them. I am so thankful that good etiquette allows me to eat nigiri sushi with my hands. I understand that it is acceptable to eat right off of yakitori skewers, but I remove the meat first with my chopsticks. I feel better about incorrectly using chopsticks than being the chef’s comic relief as I try to use my teeth as utensils.
I went with the $70 omakase, which offered the chef’s choice of six meat and two vegetable skewers, a small rice dish, and a few small extras. One of these extras was a chicken wing. Unsure, I lifted the wing off the plate with my hands, only to have the meat slip right off the bones. The meat had been prepared in such a way that I could have liberated it easily from the bones with my chopsticks, preventing me the embarrassment of eating it with my hands and of the waitress of bringing me another warm towel. It was too good to leave me red-faced for long, however. The slightly sweet sauce that glazed it reminded me of the pans of oven-baked chicken wings that my mom and her friends would bestow upon party tables in the 80s. The other extra was a vegetal-forward pumpkin soup, with no strong spice or added sweetness to hide the flavour of the squash. The extra notes you wanted came from the chewy ball of mochi and the cube of creamy tofu. It was maybe a teacup’s volume of soup, but it made a strong impression on me.
And the skewers. Each one came out juicy, perfectly seasoned, at a perfect texture, and despite never getting the slightest whiff of charcoal, touched by the grill with incredible precision that the blisters almost seemed planned. I told the waitress I would try anything, hoping this might lead the chef to give me more of the “special” skewers. I.e. The more expensive parts, but moreover, the parts of the chicken that Picky Rhianna would never have dreamed of touching just a few years ago. My tactic landed me with liver (possibly now too common to be considered daring), main artery, the oyster, and the meatball. The last two are special due to their rarity and preparation. Fully okay with chicken livers, I was a bit nervous about the artery. With about eight to a skewer, they had a snappy chew that was first welcome, then desired. The chicken and duck meatball, called tsukune, was served with an egg yolk dipping sauce. I already knew it was the best part of the egg, so my only thought is, what else can we start dipping in it? Fries?
My vegetable skewers were cherry tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms, the latter of which had been prepared with butter and soy. The butter came through strongly and made me wish I could order a bowlful.
Although I had an included dessert, I paid a few dollars extra to supplement with a forgettable pumpkin cheesecake. I should have just went with the shiso sorbet. My real dessert was the one skewer I had ordered a la carte because I figured if not now, when. The whole chicken heart. It’s not easy to forget what you’re eating as you feel your teeth make their way through the different ventricles, the hollow pockets adding an unexpected but then obvious sensation. But denial easily follows as you taste the touch of salt, the coals, and all the… love.