Tori Shin, NYC
August 7, 2012
We were surprised when Tori Shin, a small yakitori restaurant, received a star in the 2012 Michelin Guide. (Yakitori literally means “grilled bird” in Japanese.) Linda and I went for dinner on July 14, 2012.
This is the entrance on First Avenue near 65th Street.
On entering at 7:30, we saw an almost entirely Japanese clientèle and staff. That is a good sign; later arrivals were more of an ethnic mix.
There are three tables, but most diners sit around the counter which surrounds the cooking area. We were fortunate to have a well-located spot with the view below. This genial and energetic chef grilled all of our skewers over the long, narrow grill in front of him filled with very hot Japanese charcoal. (In his left hand is a fan which he used to increase the heat.) He served the skewers to us immediately and told us what each held, although he was sometimes hard to understand. On the right is a chilled case with ingredients.
In the back, through the curtain, you can see the kitchen where non-grilled dishes are prepared. There were always four to six chefs working in the area in front of us. There is another grill on the right side for diners there. The chefs seemed more sturdy than the crew at a typical sushi restaurant; it was like the difference between a rugby team and a soccer team.
Vegetables were staged on top of the chilled case.
Directly in front of our places were a container of soy sauce, two of finely ground different Japanese peppers and a glass in which to put our wooden skewers when we were finished with them. (This photo was taken halfway through the meal so you can get some idea of how many skewers we used.)
We ordered a bottle of Kokuryu Ginjo “Tokusen” “Crystal Dragon” sake. It had a rich flavor and aroma. It was eventually followed by a bottle of Kudoki Jozu. This was more elegant and less powerful.
There are à la carte selections, but we ordered the omakase, or chef’s choice. The waitress asked if we liked organ meats; we said that we did, but we never received any. Tori Shin receives a shipment of top-quality, freshly killed, organic chickens every day from a farm in Pennsylvania; they are cut up in the kitchen. The hearts, livers, gizzards, skin from the wings etc are served. And the bones are used for the soup.
A bowl of homemade Japanese pickles, cucumber and daikon radish, arrived. They were refreshing, but ordinary.
The first dish was a stewed pork belly chunk with vegetables, two wasabi crisps and tofu with sesame sauce.
These were very nice, quite different from each other: a good start.
Then a bowl of freshly grated daikon with mild soy sauce was served. This stayed at our places until the rice course so we could use it to refresh the palate.
The first yakitori skewer was chicken breast meat with plum and shiso which added good, distinct flavors to the delicate meat.
Next came skewers of shishito peppers and of thigh meat.
The two were a good, grilled combination. The dark meat, needing more cooking, picked up more good char than the white meat.
Breast meat with homemade spicy miso.
The added flavors became a little stronger.
Summer salad: tomatoes, chopped and sliced scallions, a good mid-meal palate freshener.
Duck breast, asparagus, citrus sauce.
This was my favorite skewer. The fatty duck picked up even more charring from the charcoal than the chicken. The combination was excellent.
A special chopped chicken meatball wrapped in duck skin with egg yolk to mix in soy sauce for dipping.
We had a choice of rice dishes and desserts.
Linda had the special oyako don: chicken and egg over rice.
I had homemade green tea ice cream and a cup of tea.
We really enjoyed our meal. The theme and variations of good poultry grilled over very hot charcoal was well done. I think we would have enjoyed it more if we had been served some of the special or organ cuts of the chicken, but they probably went to the Japanese clientèle. We enjoyed watching the preparation in front of us and the cheerful service directly from the cook. The pace was sometimes a bit too rapid. We don’t have any comparisons to other yakitori restaurants as this is the first we have been to in the US and we didn’t get to one on our last Japan trip. We will try to go to one next time. Click here to see a blogpost on a top Tokyo yakitori meal.
The 2012 NYC Michelin Guide says, for whatever that is worth, “Simply put, Tori Shin is the best yakitoriya in the country.”