While planning our recent visit to New York City, my good friend Adam Japko made reservations for us to visit Torishin. He'd dined there before and been thoroughly impressed, knowing that I would appreciate it. Before our visit, Pete Wells of the New York Times wrote a stellar review of Torishin, giving it three stars. After I dined there, I fully understood the reasons for the raves as it is an exceptional restaurant, offering yakitori that elevates chicken to new heights.
The name of the restaurant breaks down into “Tori,” which means “chicken,” and “Shin,” which means “spirit.” And that spirit of the chicken permeates the restaurant. It is a Japanese yakitori, "grilled chicken," restaurant, and originated in Tokyo, Japan, with an outpost established in New York City back in 2007. They specialize in using traditional methods to prepare and cook every part of the chicken, wasting nothing. I actually wouldn't have been surprised if they had found a way to use chicken feathers. The chickens they use are organic, and their other ingredients, such as their vegetables, are often locally sourced except much of their seafood which comes from the seas of Japan.
Their grilled chicken are cooked over Kishu Binchotan, a traditional Japanese charcoal that releases larger quantities of infrared rays, allowing the meat to get crispy outside while remaining moist and juicy inside. It burns at a lower temperature, but for a longer time, than regular charcoal and also doesn't release lots of smoke. Cooking over these binchotan is a skill, and you will see the chef at the grill, frequently fanning it throughout the evening, keeping the charcoals hot.
We though had reservations at the Select Counter, basically a chef's table with only eight seats at a counter and where you are served a superb omakase dinner. The counter is made from Hinoki wood, Japanese cypress, which is considered a sacred material. Chef Atsushi Kono (pictured above) presides over the grill, and spent nearly all of the evening in front of the grill, cooking all of the yaiktori to perfection. The Chef had two assistants at the Select Counter and we interacted more with them, as they prepared, plated and served us the various dishes we would enjoy. We also had a server, who worked only in the Select Counter room, providing us attentive and responsive service. All of this combined to transform this from a mere dinner to a more expansive dining experience.
On their drinks list, you'll also find they carry about 12 Shochu, most made from Sweet Potato, and all available by the glass or bottle. Before going to Torishin, I spoke with Stephen Lyman, a Shochu expert, seeking some recommendations. He noted that Torishin is one of his favorite restaurants and he gave me some Shochu recs, which I'll discuss later in this post.
The Omakase ($150/per person) offers the seven skewers in the box above, with your choice of either a King Crab Leg or Kumamoto A5 Beef. In addition, you'll receive a number of other dishes and also get a choice of a rice dish, like Oyako Don, or a soup, like Ramen. During the course of the dinner, we also ordered a few extra skewers a la carte, to sample more of the various chicken parts. It's the type of restaurant where you want to sit and sample everything they have to offer.
During the course of our dinner, I took numerous photos but I didn't take any notes. I was primarily there to enjoy the experience, and not write a detailed review. Plus, I wanted to eat each skewer as soon as it was put before me, garnering the maximum amount of pleasure. So, you won't find many notes accompanying the following photos but I can't stress enough how delicious and exceptional the experience was that evening. Much of the food was prepared relatively simply, but the high quality ingredients and perfect execution of cooking techniques elevated these items far above the ordinary. The chef was able to extract so much flavor in many of these items, including more unusual body parts that you might not even consider to be edible.
Ever had chicken arteries?
We then ended our dinner with a choice of desserts. I opted for the Shiso (Japanese Mojito) Sorbet because I was planning to have a glass of Shochu, the Tenshi no Yuwaku ($18/glass). Shochu expert Stephen Lyman recommended the pairing so I took his advice. The Tenshi no Yuwaku is a sweet potato Shochu which was fermented in Sherry casks for about 10 years. This is a more unique Shochu as few are ever aged this long. It's name translates as "Angel's Temptation," a reference to the Angel's Share, the amount of spirit that evaporates over time while it ages in a barrel. I enjoyed it neat, finding it rich and creamy, with intense Sherry notes, hints of sweetness, and plenty of complexity. And it worked well with the sorbet. I really need to get a bottle of this Shochu.