Every now and then we dream about our days wandering throughout Japan, traveling from place to place and eating everything in between. Nothing brings us back to the streets of Japan like an authentic bowl of ramen and mouthwatering yakitori. While we get our fix for a pretty good bowl of ramen at the Santouka stand in Mitsuwa Marketplace in Schaumburg, it’s near impossible to find real yakitori in Chicago. We’ve seen several restaurants try to offer it and market themselves as yakitori joints (including the most recent opening that people have been raving about but we shall not name), but what Chicago seems accept as delicious yakitori is just not the real thing. I guess that is the price you pay once you set your standard at such high level.
We’ve been hearing good things about Yakitori Totto in NYC. With the name translated to “bird people” I hope they know their yakitori. So we made that our first dinner of choice to start off our ZEAST trip. It’s somewhat tucked away 2 doors down from the famous soup nazi stall on 55th street. The restaurant is located on the 2nd floor of the building, so if you were casually walking by, you will likely miss it. We ascended the narrow staircase and as we got closer to the second floor doorway we heard the loud bustling sound of a typical yakitori joint and most importantly hearing Japanese spoken. We looked at each other and smiled. First of all, it smelled right. With a big whiff of the smoky and undeniable binchotan aroma, I was forced to close my eyes for a second and was taken back to our favorite yakitori place in Kyoto.
decor, suspended eggs and beer
sake on display
We skipped the appetizers and entrees and quickly ordered nearly one of everything that came on a stick and sat back in our bar stools with a bottle of Ramune and as usual Asahi Soo-pah Doo-rai (Super Dry) to quaff our thirst!
One by one, all of our sticks came out and our eyes lit up with glee. With each bite off the skewer, the salt, fat, meat and smoke melded so beautifully together. There’s no need for heavy sauces or spices to mask the clean flavor of the meat. No, seriously. This is how we feel about yakitori! So simple, yet so delicious.
Here’s a mostly comprehensive list of our yakitori order: Hiza Nankotsu (soft knee bone), Nankotsu (soft bone), Seseri (neck), Bonchiri (tail), Hatsu (heart), Chicken Oyster (rare part of thigh), Negima (thigh and scallion), Kawa (skin), Tebasaki (wing), Sunagimo (gizzard), Reba (liver), Tsukune (chicken meatball), Kuro Buta Karashi Lemon (Berkshire pork belly with lemon and mustard).
Some of our favorite dishes were the smooth creamy liver, the flavorful yet light meatballs, and finally the chicken tail. The crispy skin, perfectly grilled with the soft fatty tissues underneath- what a perfect specimen of food. Be sure to get there early as some of the items are limited.
chicken soft bone, chicken oysters
negima (thigh and scallions); chicken heart
tsukune, chicken meatball with a quail egg
berkshire pork belly with lemon and mustard; our used up skewers
We ended our meal with yaki-onigiri and warm bowl of salmon ochazuke, it was exactly what we needed to end our delicious meal.
yaki onigiri; pouring green tea for ochazuke
While our favorite yakitori restaurant in the US so far is still Yakitoriya in Los Angeles, Yakitori Totto comes in at an extremely close second. Sadly we live in smack dab in the midwest no where near a LA or NYC, so a late night trip to either of our favorite yakitori joints is just not an option. I guess we’ll have to settle for homemade ones for now- Jared just added a yakitori grill and binchotan charcoal to his Christmas wishlist this year.
With our bellies full, we decided to walk through time square to enjoy the liveliness this city has to offer. It really is the city that never sleeps!
251 w. 55th st
New York, NY 10019