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