Just like it’s sister restaurant, Yakitori Totto transports you from the streets of New York to Tokyo. As you ascend up the stairs of this seemingly sketchy Midtown West restaurant, located on the 2nd floor of a side street building, you begin to question where you are headed. But once you reach the top of the staircase, any fears are quickly alleviated.
I always try and impress my food savvy Dad. Flashy restaurants do not get an automatic approval, instead its the hole in the wall spots that really leave a mark. We were on the exact same wave length when I suggested Yakitori Totto as our evening’s destination for a low key meal. We found parking with ease, and make our way up the steps to the restaurant.
The last time I went here, crowds of trendy foodies gathered around the narrow waiting area of the restaurant, squeezed between the few waiting chairs and the bar seating. Similar to a sushi restaurant, patrons can sit and watch the master chefs at work, as they artfully grill skewers of meats and veggies over a low burning flame. Yakitori by definition means “skewered food” but it’s the preparation that distinguishes this from a kebab.
We were seated towards the back, at a table rather then the bar. While glancing over the menu, my dad ordered a Sapporo, and I selected a chilled sake.
My drink arrived with the glass in a box, the traditional preparation. And to my dad’s delight, the Sapporo was served properly, right out of a tap, rather then a bottle. According to my Dad, the way they serve these two drinks prove the authenticity of the place. So far, Yakitori Totto was living up to his standards.
We decided to share six various yakitori, which consists of one skewer per order with three little parts on each stick. They arrive one at a time, creating a simple pace between the meal and avoiding the feeling of being overwhelmed by plates and flavors.
Each product is prepared with such care, ease and simplicity. Only the tofu and eggplant had a dressing of miso to enhance the flavor. Otherwise, the meats and fish were season and grilled, allowing for the natural flavors to shine through. The light addition of scallion and onion add a burst of freshness when added, making the fattier meats a bit more subtle in flavor.
As I tried to write my favorites, I found myself ultimately listing all six dishes, unable to pin point which one left the most powerful impact. Each one was so unique and flavorful on its own, but together they formed a cohesive meal. I dare you to venture outside your comfort zone and try some meat you wouldn’t normally. Beef tongue is a personal favorite of mine.
We realized that sharing six skewers didn’t seem to be quite enough food and decided to try Tokusen Oyako Don a rice bowl with spicy chicken on top.
The waiter showed us how to make all of the little components into one cohesive dish. I swirled the soft-poached egg, mixing the yolk with the whites and then poured it on top of the scallions and spicy chicken. With our chopsticks, we picked at the pieces of chicken, coated in the egg, which acted like a rich, flavorful sauce. The scallions gave a fresh bite and subtle bitter flavor. Then finally, you make you way to the bottom of the dish, where the rice was hidden by all of the ingredients on top. The rice is sticky and sweet, with the egg, spice from the chicken and other tastes and texture having been absorbed into the grain. We pretty quickly turned to our spoons, to enjoy bigger portions then allowed by the rice (this utensil is completely allowed). Tokusen Okayo Don is unlike anything else I have really enjoyed, and according to my dad is a really traditional Japanese dish.
Everything at Yakitori Totto is made with extreme care, with delicate preparation and perfection of the seemingly simple dishes. It’s a great spot to try authentic Japanese food that you might not otherwise be exposed to. For everyone deciding to try this restaurant, be sure to venture outside of our comfort zone and try to not just order chicken breast yakitori. The more adventurous you are, the happier and more satisfied you’ll be when you leave.
Yakitori Totto – 251 West 55th Street – New York, NY
Location: Hell’s Kitchen, NY
Perfect For: Authentic Dining, Cheap Eats, Impressing Foodies, Adventurous Eating
Reservations: Not Accepted
Favorite Dishes: Miso Eggplant Yakitori, Duck Yakitori, Scallop Yakitori, Tokusen Oyako Don