Tag: Japanese

Totto eclipse of the heart

Monday, March 31st, 2008 | All Things, Drinks, Eats

B — always on the prowl for new places — had read a lot of good things about Yakitori Totto on West 55th. The location makes it easy to miss; the small, low-key restaurant overlooks the middle of a quiet street, and is reached by ascending the narrow staircase adjacent to Japanese restaurant Sugiyama.

As the name indicates, their specialty is yakitori — bite-sized pieces of chicken (meat or organs) skewered and grilled, usually over charcoal. Japanese street fare, served in a dining room setting. (As an alternative to the small tables, a number of seats are set up around a counter in front of the smoky grill.) Quite a lot has been made about the default traditional chicken preparation — medium rare to raw — but I figured that there were far more dangerous things to eat than not-quite-cooked chicken, and perhaps the looming threat of salmonella poisoning would add an extra edge to the overall experience. Besides, this restaurant opened in January 2004, and surely would have been shut down by now if it posed a serious public health threat… and just as surely would not have been named to New York magazine’s Cheap Eats list in 2006 (#61)… right?

First, some sake for courage. B put in the order of Okunomatsu ginjo sake, and we were both a little taken aback with this supersized bottle arrived in a chilled bucket. It was easily twice the size we were expecting. In retrospect, I guess we could have sent it back…

We started our meal off tamely enough with the Hamachi Ceviche (yellowtail sashimi with citrus dressing) and a simple Totto Salad (Totto’s special mix salad, with shiso leaf dressing). From there, we pored over the truly impressive assortment of chicken part options, the familiar and the less so: wing and thigh… liver and skin… gizzard, heart, “soft bone,”(?) “soft knee bone”(??)…

I insisted on ordering the heart — the little chunks of muscle arrived three to a bamboo skewer, and were delightfully juicy — and B piled on the rest: the Shishitou Tsukune (chicken meatball and asparagus wrapped in thinly sliced breast), Sasami Shisomaki (shiso leaf wrapped in sliced chicken breast with plum sauce), some other non-chicken skewers: the Enoki Bacon (mmm… bacon), the Kuro Buta Negi Pon (organic pork with scallion and ponzu)…

I lost track. I blame the sake. But I do recall that it was all delicious.

Things ended on a sweet note with the Yawaraka Annin Tofu (creamy apricot kernel tofu) — similar to the dessert I sampled at Kyotofu, and just as tasty. No lingering, though… as we were licking the last creamy bits off our spoons, our server came over and in an apologetic tone that nonetheless left little room for negotiation, reminded us that there was a growing crowd of hungry diners waiting for our seats.

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Adventures in okonomiyaki

Saturday, November 24th, 2007 | All Things, Eats

Okonomiyaki is a Japanese dish, whose name (according to Wikipedia) is derived from the Japanese words “okonomi,” meaning “what you want”, and “yaki” meaning “grilled” or “cooked.” I’ve seen the dish described as Japanese savory pancake, or Japanese pizza — understandable, if not perfect, reference points: the popular Japanese street food is prepared in a pan or on a griddle by integrating flour batter with layers of cabbage and assorted toppings of seafood, meat and vegetables.

I’d first sampled okonomiyaki at Otafuku in the East Village, but JL had assured me that the homemade version would be far superior to anything ordered in a restaurant. After picking up a few final ingredients at the Sunrise Mart above St. Mark’s Bookshop — knowing how to read Japanese would have been very helpful here! Good thing for packaging photos — we were off to cook.

The mise en place:

Okonomiyaki setup

JL laid out all the ingredients and explained the process of making the base, adding copious amounts of sliced cabbage and toppings, and flipping the entire pancake to allow the different layers to hit the hot pan at various intervals. Our Hiroshima-style version of the dish included a layer of pan-fried noodles (Kansai [Osaka]-style omits this), sliced bacon, shrimp and squid, rice cakes (which melted down to gooey goodness), and chopped onions. Lots of fun, actually, and once we began assembling in earnest, the mad flurry of activity sent clouds of smoke wafting throughout the kitchen.


We finished the pancake with squeeze-bottled grids of mayonnaise and tonkatsu sauce, plus generous handfuls of bonito flakes which danced eerily in the heat. Filling and delicious!


To accompany our okonomiyaki, JL put together a flight of Hitachi Nest beers from Kiuchi Brewery. The company, which has been producing sake out of Ibaraki since 1823, first entered the beer market in 1996, though their products have been available in the United States only since 2000. The brewer has seen the line’s popularity spike locally over the past couple of years in large part due to being by championed by David Chang at his Momofuku and Momofuku Ssäm Bar restaurants. Chef Chang himself has evinced particular devotion to the Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale, his restaurants’ bestseller.

Check out this row of little red owls. Did we really drink all this beer? Why yes, yes we did, though after a while, it became somewhat difficult to distinguish among the different brews, most of which fell into a fruity/sweet pattern. The Real Ginger Brew was noticeably ginger-y; the Espresso Stout, too, sticks out in my mind — though not for particularly good reasons. Still well worth sampling, though. Kudos and thanks to JL for setting up this fine evening of food and drink.

Hitachi Nest

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