At Torien, Pleasures on the End of a Stick

Of all the locations in Japan the place yakitori is offered — the all-night comfort shops, merchandising machines, izakayas, yearly festivals and seasonal festivals, the crowded inlets round practice station entrances, the two-wheeled pushcarts generally known as yata — the Tokyo restaurant Torishiki is, by basic acclaim, thought of the finest. Those who’ve secured locations at one of its 17 counter seats converse of a chicken-skewer meal there as if it had been a sort of chamber-music recital and Yoshiteru Ikegawa, the proprietor and chef, had been a virtuoso whose instrument occurred to be a charcoal grill.

Standing earlier than a lengthy, slim trough of fiendishly sizzling oak embers, virtually by no means wanting up, he’ll elevate the warmth by quickly waving a paper fan at the coals, then return to fractionally adjusting the place of every skewer till he’s momentarily happy that they’re all cooking at the pace and temperature he desires.

Torishiki opened its first (and to date, solely) abroad offshoot final yr, on Elizabeth Street in NoHo. Called Torien, it arrived a little greater than two months earlier than the basic shutdown and remained closed for nearly precisely a yr. When it re-emerged in March, it resumed providing its $150 menu of about 15 programs.

In the darkish eating room, the counter and kitchen stand out like the stage in an Off Off Broadway theater.Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

The meals is ready in a gleaming metal kitchen and served at a brightly illuminated camphor-wood counter with 16 seats. Nearly all the things else in the eating room is both black or forged in shadows, and for a whereas I assumed that the room appeared like an Off Off Broadway experimental theater from the 1970s. Only after the third time a server refilled my water glass from a carafe wherein a size of Kishu binchotan was bobbing round, as a filter, did it happen to me that the partitions and ceiling had been the coloration of charcoal.

Most of the programs are rooster skewers grilled over glowing branches of imported binchotan charcoal. A number of are vegetable skewers. One, about halfway by way of the meal, is known as the “skewer break.” At the finish of the meal comes a bowl that may smother any remaining starvation pangs: white rice with minced rooster or a rooster omelet; or ramen in shimmering, intense rooster broth with some ovals of broiled rooster breast standing in for chashu. This is adopted by dessert — of strawberries and granita sandwiched inside mochi biscuits, for example.

The attraction of snacking on one or two grilled yakitori skewers is clear to anyone who likes grilled rooster. The attraction of sitting all the way down to an hourslong dinner that includes a dozen or extra skewers — drawn from elements of the chicken’s anatomy that style, usually talking, like rooster (thigh, shoulder, oyster) in addition to extra distinctive bits like beaks, gizzards, tendons, tails, ovaries and testicles — could also be considerably much less apparent.

The success of such a meal relies upon virtually totally on the chef’s potential. Skillful manipulation of the grill could make unpromising odds and ends price consuming. It can carry out idiosyncrasies of taste, texture and construction that make these seemingly interchangeable fleshy cuts as straightforward to inform aside as marshmallows and graham crackers.

The bumpy tube of pores and skin from the neck is folded on the skewer, accordion model, then grilled slowly and patiently. This drives out the fats as the pores and skin, usually as chewable as latex, slowly turns crisp. Torien does this masterfully. As a bonus, the folds grow to be delicately etched with smoke, giving it a complexity you would possibly affiliate extra with spit-roasted meats than with rooster pores and skin.

Skewered hearts are cooked quicker and warmer, like steak. They’re as darkish as black tea on the outdoors however if you chew them, they are going to gush with a few drops of bloody crimson juices. Bits of thigh may be yielding, shoulder items extra resilient and chewy. Both may have a chip of pores and skin that’s gloriously golden in distinction to all the meat round it, which isn’t charred and even browned.

Fanning the fireplace, lining up the charcoal, preserving the skewers in movement: These are the components of grilling vegetable skewers, too, and may end up in vividly completely different results. Torien’s shiitake caps are as easy as flan, whereas the shishito peppers are smoky, with a juicy freshness that separates them from the near-liquid stage of cooking that may have come subsequent.

Tightly folded rooster pores and skin goes from rubbery to crisp because it grills.Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Grilling method is very essential as a result of Torien’s use of seasonings is minimalist; virtually each skewer is salted, and a few, however not all, are brushed with tare. On the counter are ceramic pots of powdered sansho pepper and the spice mix shichimi togarashi. There can be a pot of soy blended with dashi, however most Japanese clients would use this solely to season the uncooked daikon radish, which performs the similar function in a yakitori counter that pickled ginger performs at a sushi bar: It’s there to reset your palate. (The juicy, candy, roughly grated daikon at Torien additionally occurs to be scrumptious.)

Mr. Ikegawa taught his chef at Torien, Atsushi Ganaha, how you can prepare dinner yakitori his manner in frequent remote-learning classes throughout the pandemic, supplemented by some in-person coaching. With the assist of this far-from-traditional apprenticeship, Torien stands in the higher tier of yakitori eating places in New York. Its nearest competitor is the omakase counter at Torishin, presumably — I’ve not been again since the chef, Atsushi Kono, left.

And but: A nonetheless greater degree of yakitori talent is feasible, a sensitivity that may make it appear as if the supreme cooking method has been found for every skewer. I skilled this degree on a evening when the grill was being tended by one of Mr. Ikegawa’s lieutenants from Tokyo. Flavorful juices that tasted like captured essences swirled by way of a practically collapsed cipollini onion and a meatball of minced rooster and scallions. Every skewer tasted of smoke, however not of soot or char. My reminiscence reeled forwards and backwards in time, making an attempt to provide you with a extra successfully frizzled nub of broccoli, one other forewing that tempted me to lick each bit of flesh from the harplike body of skinny bones.

The dangerous information is that this lieutenant was known as again to Tokyo a few days later. This is, of course, the downside with making an attempt to open a department of a restaurant whose fame rests on the contact of one chef. That’s usually the case with small sushi counters, and explains why merely taking Shion Uino away from Sushi Saito, in Tokyo, and setting him up at Sushi Amane in Midtown didn’t imply that his restaurant was nearly as good as Sushi Saito.

Torien shouldn’t be Torishiki, both. But irrespective of who’s at the grill, a meal there nonetheless gives a glimpse of new and unsuspected pleasures that may be yours at the finish of a bamboo skewer.

What the Stars Mean Because of the pandemic, eating places usually are not being given star scores.

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