Yakitori: Go High or Low?

by Shellycious

My recent visits to both Yakitori Taisho and Yakitori Totto offered two quite contrasting perspectives on the same subject yakitori and had taught me that this specific type of Japanese cuisine can be enjoyed in either a high-end fashion or down-to-earth style in the city.

Yakitori Taisho is one of the places I frequent in Astor Place, where there are many other crowded Asian food spots. Cheap food is definitely one of the reasons that kept drawing me back there, but their food is quite delicious. Even though this is an yakitori place, I barely eat those skewers, which come out a bit dry and under-seasoned sometimes. Strangely, I love everything else on the menu that’s not yakitori. We shall begin with my favorite grilled pork feet that are served in two pieces over a bed of lettuce. I found Yakitori Taisho makes better pork feet than the so-called pork feet expert Hakata Ton Ton in West Village, at least in terms of grilled style.

The slightly scored pork feet is tender inside with a smoky flavor and could be paired nicely with some drafted beer. Another dish that I found quite interesting there is the avocado with pork. The meat itself is cooked in a more Chinese style, almost like Cha Siu, but once it is enjoyed with those thinkly cut avocado slices, the dish presents a whole new flavor because the sweetness of the meat sauce complements the creamy texture of avocado, of which the lack of flavor is boosted up by the well-seasoned pork.

Their menu is always lots of fun to study because on there you can find some really funky Japanese food like grilled hot sushi (which unfortunately is always unavailable) and the eel tofu soup pot. Personally, I like to try things I’ve never heard of and by most chance those kinds of dish don’t disappoint me here. My only complain is that they seem to put a lot of okonomi sauce (the brown, thick, sweet sauce that resembles Worcester sauce) on almost everything, which covers up the real flavor of the food sometimes. What about the bill? Oh I love this place because you can hardly find anything that’s over $10 here, excluding the skewer sets.

Then comes the fancy version of yakitori, or more authentic as some might argue. Yakitori Totto located in Hell’s Kitchen near the Columbus circle, is a hole-in-the-wall place, yet most Japanese food enthusiasts are familiar with it. Looking over the menu, one gets the idea that this place is darn serious about yakitori, which can be ordered only by skewer with no option for sets. That kind of reminds me of dining at a good Sushi place, where you can only order nigiri by piece with no special maki on the list (don’t know if this comparison makes sense). Each skewer ranges from $2 to $5 with plenty of variety on meats. I have to admit their yakitori is much better than what I’ve had in Yakitori Taisho, judging both from the quality meat and the taste of the sauce. The juice literally burst out in my mouth when I bit into the piece of meat, be it chicken or beef or pork, and the sauce basted on the skewer is deeply flavored and moisturizes the meat.

Among many I’ve had, one of the most memorable is the Negi Pon, which is pork loin with sipped in ponzu and topped with a thick layer of paperthin scallion pieces, or flakes I would call. The tangy ponzu and the scallion add some complex flavor to the meat, which was marinated as to reach a satisfying tenderness. Aside from yakitori, the menu also offers some very Japanese small dishes that I had when I was in Japan, like the delicate, deep-fried small silver fish with matcha dipping powder ($6) and fermented salmon appetizer ($8), which you will like if you are a fan of miso because the salmon is loaded with fermented bean paste and can be too salty for some people.

One thing I wouldn’t recommend however, is their Tokusen Oyako Don ($12), a common rice dish with chicken, egg over rice. I expected the meat to be as tasty as the yakitori version but was dismayed to find out that the chicken is bland and dry. Maybe I got it wrong, because I chose chicken breast when the waitress asked me to make a decision between chicken breast and thigh.  I really hope it’s my fault, because everything else is very enjoyable here.

I’d rather not to see the bill though, because it never comes out cheap. Everytime I go, I tend to eat way over what I’d like to pay for because the yakitori are so good that once I start, I cannot stop. For people who heart Yakitori Taisho, they might find Yakitori Totto exorbitant in price, but some Totto fans might sneer at Yakitori Taisho for the relative poor quality of their skewers. For me, either one is fine because I love both places.

2 thoughts on “Yakitori: Go High or Low?

  1. I’m with you, any yakitori place I visit I look for the items I haven’t tried/seen before first.

    I also prefer the hole in the wall spots. I don’t feel like there is as much of a difference in quality of skewered/grilled items between hole in the wall vs. upscale places like there is when you’re getting sushi.

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