Friday, March 28, 2008

Yakitori Totto, New York: chicken paradise, from neck to tail

As promised, although with much delay, I am going to try to write about my favorite restaurants in New York. And I would like to dedicate the first part of this series to Yakitori Totto. I found out about that place 2 years ago, just a few months after arriving in New York. Since then, I have had numerous meals there and can not spend more than a month without coming back.

Located on the second floor of a building, it is easy to pass by without noticing it, which made it a well-kept secret for quite a while. The small dining-room-cum-bar, which can accommodate only 40 guests or so, is constantly full (Japanese making the bulk of the clientele, which is always a good sign) and waiting time can be ridiculously long, ranging from 30 minutes to 1 hour and a half at times. Reservations by phone are not accepted beyond 7pm. So you have to go there, leave your name and wait for a call back when a table becomes available (luckily I live in the neighborhood). Needless to say that you have to earn your seat. To be honest, I like this utmost democratic approach of the restaurant.

But your patience will be rewarded since this is one of the best restaurant, if not the best, I have ever eaten in for such a moderate price tag. Michael Ruhlman has praised their chicken as the best ever while Thomas Keller and Tony Bourdain named Totto one of their favorite restaurants. And such acclaim is well-deserved since their organic chicken skewers are out of this world. And the variety is dizzying: from liver to gizzards, heart to oyster, skin to tail, breast to thigh. Except for the skin that I found forgettable, the rest is totally amazing, my personal favorite being tsukune tare (glazed chicken meatball served, at your discretion, with a quail egg you beat and use as a dip).

What makes Totto a stand-out is consistency: meat is first-rate and the various cuts always cooked to perfection. Texture are thus respected and chicken keeps its moist. Looks simple? Right but it takes the attention to detail that only Japanese cooks are capable of.

But ecstasy goes beyond chicken. The Kobe beef tongue and the skirt steak are succulent. The pork gyoza are surprisingly light and tasty (the best I have ever had) while the apricot tofu kernel (Totto's take on Panacotta) is a must-eat dessert.

As you will have understood, I highly recommend this restaurant. Not a secret anymore but who could complain?

Yakitori Totto
Skewers: between $2 and $4 a piece ; Meal: $40-$60 (including tax and tip)
251 W 55th st. (between Broadway and 8th), New York
Open 5.30pm - 1am (Mon-Thu), 5.30pm - 2am (Sat), 5.30pm - midnight (Sun)
Tel: 212 245 4555

Monday, January 7, 2008

I know I'm late...

Bonne Annee

...But happy new year to you all. And thanks for reading this blog. It's not that you are thousands to visit each day but you are more and more to stop by (even to come back in fact). So thanks again. I hope my little posts inspire you to try new recipes, new foods and also visit new places.

This blog should see some changes in 2008. In particular, I intend to add reviews of the places I like to eat in in New York. Because it's a shame to live in a city with a (justified) reputation for great and diversified food and not share those (sometimes) spectacular experiences with you. So hang on for more.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Die, Die, Must Try in Singapore

If you have read the excellent"Nasty Bits" by Anthony Bourdain you must be familiar with the title of this post since it is also that of a chapter in his book. Bourdain describes his encounter with K.F Seetoh, the founder of the Makansutra food guide and TV show, and also his experience eating chicken rice at Tian Tian (more on that below).

And there are indeed lots of good eats to die for in Singapore where locals are even more food-obsessed than in Hong Kong (can you imagine that?). Among the various delicacies available for sale, you definitely have to taste the national dish: chicken rice. The one at Tian Tian hawker stall at Maxwell Rd. Food Center is simply out of this world. You could argue that it is only boiled chicken served with rice, a chili condiment, a sticky and dark soy sauce and a chicken broth. That's right. But everything in that dish is executed so perfectly that it turned out to be one of the best thing I've ever eaten. No wonder that it is listed as the best chicken rice in Singapore by Makansutra in its Top 10 ranking and was granted its highest award (the above-mentioned "die, die must try").

We were fortunate enough to stay at an hotel right next to Maxwell Rd. Food Center and needless to say that we went there as often as possible. The funny part was reading Bourdain's lines about Tian Tian when coming back to New York. We had really felt the same way not only about what we had eaten there but also about Singapore itself (an average first impression, compounded by a suffocating humidity, rapidly replaced by the urge to stay for a long time). Note by the way that Travel Channel will broadcast his No Reservation show shot in Singapore on Monday, January 8. Don't miss it.

The other great experience of this trip was eating char kway teow at Outram Park Fried Teow stall at Hong Lim Food Center. The ingredients (noodles, chilli paste and cockles among other things) and the perfect wok stir-frying technique of the chef combine to make for an unforgettable (and spicy hot!) dish. In keeping with our several lunches at Tian Tian, another great thing was also the kindness of local diners who explained us how to eat the dishes ("add this, dip into that sauce, ..."), wondered how we had learned about those places and shared with us their culinary views in general.

My only regrets? Not being able to taste dishes like laksa or chilli crab. I guess it will have to wait for my next visit. Because there will definitely be a next time.