As of late, I have been making confessions of one sort or another, and the lion’s share of these soul baring mutterings have centered on topics of the culinary persuasion. Without further ado, here is my confession: I have a weakness for yakitori and, until recently, have not had a single outstanding bite of it since relocating to Stamford almost 4 years ago. Yes, at some places it has been palatable, but who wants good when you can have great?
It should come as no surprise to those who know me or know of me that I am an ardent lover of food—not just any food, mind you, but really great food—although I do have a much healthier relationship with food now than I did 10 years ago. When I stumble upon a restaurant that just gets it, I want to stick with that place for as long as I can. Ladies and gentleman, in the world of yakitori, I have found a keeper: Yakitori Totto.
Located in Midtown Manhattan, Yakitori Totto is a destination for anyone who adores the concept of yakitori (typically, grilled chicken on a skewer, but generally any skewered food), anyone curious about it and even those who are totally clueless. It’s not rocket science, folks; and at Yakitori Totto, its traditional Japanese fare that appeals to the masses.
When I intertwine my fingers together, crack my knuckles and dig my feet in, I can be a serious eater … I’m talking about shoveling in a whole lot of food. However, the objective here was not to make a gluttonous spectacle of myself but rather to experience what this moderately sized restaurant—situated on the second floor of the building, elevated head and shoulders above all others—had to offer and, as a first-timer, hope and pray for the best. My prayers were answered … and then some.
By and large, I find it amateurish and a bit déclassé when I encounter a menu splattered with pictures of every dish the restaurant offers; however, in the case of Yakitori Totto’s menu, it seemed reasonably appropriate and non-offensive, although it did go a long way in tempting us to eat first and foremost with our eyes.
My husband and I sidled up to the bar, took our seats, and allowed the dinnertime food festivities to unfold before our eyes. Unlike the lunch menu, which is small but nonetheless mouthwatering, the dinner menu is extensive, and if you have a difficult time making up your mind, you may want to hold onto the menu after your first round of ordering—you’ll likely go in for rounds two, three and possibly four (or more). In the end, we ordered a total of 12 different pieces of yakitori. However, we ate far more than that as the sheer volume of reorders brings a flush of shame to my face. How could two people devour so much food?
Top of the Heap
At Yakitori Totto, if you take a seat at the bar you can catch all of the action and watch as the chefs whip up the culinary bits of skewered food. They say you never forget your first, and the initial item to pass my lips was the Negima (chicken breast with scallion). And yes, while that was a delectable mouthful of tender chicken, it paled in comparison to the Tsukune (chicken meatball). While not actually a series of skewered meatballs but rather one lone tube of meat (presumably for ease of grilling), this highly flavored dish was my favorite.
That was, until . . .
The Smoked Lamb Chops made an appearance at the table. How convenient that the lamb chops didn’t need to be skewered … they came with their own convenient built-in handle. I’m not too ashamed to say I sucked mightily on the remnants of that bone, its meat totally stripped bare – the flavors went deep, deep, deep into the marrow. Heaven help me.
There were so many standouts that came flying off of that grill. The Momo was yet another tender and juicy skewer of meat. For a veggie and meat combination, try the Asparagus Bacon. The Kamo Negima, duck and scallion, was extraordinarily juicy without being greasy. Meat connoisseurs will fall in love all over again when you try the skirt steak known as Harami, but don’t overlook the Kalbi (short ribs), either, if you really want to throw a party in your mouth.
Other selections included Pork Mustard (pork loin with mustard), Hotate (scallop), Sasami (chicken breast fillet with wasabi mayo) and lastly, Yaki Onigiri (a grilled rice ball which, like the chicken meatball, was not in the shape of a ball but one of a tube).
In the end, the skeletal remains of more than three dozen skewers filled the wasteland that was our little cup, proof positive that we did indeed get our fill … and then some.
Lest you wonder, Yakitori Totto is more than just yakitori. They also have a respectable selection of appetizers, including Tako Wasa (marinated octopus), Salmon Siokara (fermented salmon) and Aburi Shime Saba (flamed pickled mackerel), to name a few. They also have on hand a variety of salads, two soups to choose from, as well as noodle and rice dishes.
Yakitori Totto is one of those rare ethnic restaurants that doesn’t merely talk the talk, they walk the walk with a decidedly flavorful flair, as well. A true sign of the quality of the cuisine is shown in the sheer number of Japanese patrons who dine there. And they frequent the place in droves. If I lived closer to Midtown Manhattan, you can bet you’d see me in Yakitori Totto at least once a week. Yes folks, it’s that good.
Yakitori Toto is open seven days a week. Lunch Mon-Fri 11:30a-2:30p; Dinner Mon-Thur 5:30p-12:00a, Fri-Sat 5:30p-1:00a; Sun5:30p-11:00p. If and when you go, reservations are strongly urged. From the website: “You can make reservations before 7pm. However, you need to call us before 5:30pm on the day. After that, walk-in only. We highly recommend you to make reservations 2 days before the desired dates.”
Yakitori Totto, 251 W. 55th Street, 2nd Floor (btwn 8th Ave. & Broadway), New York, NY 10019 / 212-245-4555
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