NEW YORK, NY
I have a bone to pick with Torien as they would not sit me till the exact time of my reservation … kidding. Just a little nugget of information for the people like me who like to get to restaurants early. They have a very small waiting area upfront but it is best for you to just get there on time rather than early. I just cannot help myself than to get to a restaurant early. I just love watching the early energy of the kitchen prepping for service but I repeat, this is not the place for that. If you do find yourself arriving early at the location, I suggest you take a detour around the corner to Bond street where there are more than a few restaurants where you can get a drink while you wait. When I did get in, I found the maitre’d at the front came off as VERY eager to please screaming “Arigato” in quite the welcoming temperament. It is fine anyway as it is your welcome to yakitori or as how I like to think of it…
the celebration of chicken. This welcome was then further bolstered with the enthusiasm of greeting when entering the dining space. All of this riled me up and got me even more excited for the experience to come. I really do not know why I do not do yakitori more often when I know that I love it so much. Watching the hot charcoals being beaten down with tools is surprisingly soothing or maybe I am just excited to see the magic… While seating is completed promptly at the time of reservation, dinner does not actually start until about thirty minutes after reservation time. Yes I counted as I was terribly hungry and I do in fact get hangry. Anyway, let us get into it!
We started with the deviled egg on delicata squash purée with crispy skin garnish. The overall takeaway on this dish was that it was cool. The texture was a playground of crunchy chicken skin enmeshed with soft boiled egg and I found the balance achieved here to be nothing short of amazing. The sweetness of the squash was undoubtedly the defining flavor on the plate. I love that while this was an absolutely delicious bite it was not an overwhelmingly flavorful bite which made for it to be a most welcome start to dinner.
Next was the daikon radish with the dashi soy sauce poured atop. This was nothing short of magical. I was provided with different spices which gave me a bit of pause given my never-ending sensitivity to spice. I did a quick tentative chopstick dip into each of the spices and thankfully I found them all to be more flavorful than provisioning of a burning sensation. This put me in the mindset of looking forward to enjoying them throughout the evening. I generally try not to comment on other dinner guest in these writeups but the gentleman sitting next to me was very thoroughly enjoying the radish. This was supposed to last the entire dinner and it appeared to me that he would finish his before any of the skewers were served!
The next piece was the kashiwa which is chicken thigh. I was told to have this skewer with the green numbing pepper. I tried it first without the pepper and I found it to be juicy and deeply grilled with a largely charcoal flavoring. There was this running sweetness to the baste that played very well on the palate. The pepper gave the skewer a herbaceous and almost citrus flavor that had a long and numbing finish but not at all in a painful way. To be honest, I had to really roll the skewer in the pepper to get that numbing sensation. Pairing the skewer with my sake, the flavor profile became incredibly fruity which was quite interesting to have all these divergent flavors on my palate at once. I thoroughly loved this.
Next was the negima which is a chicken thigh with scallions. This is apparently a very traditional skewer in Japan. I love it when there is a thoughtfully paced and education aspect to a dinner and this experience did not disappoint on that front. Now this delicious skewer was wrapped in neck skin and yet the flavors were so simple. The scallions were the star of the show and the fattiness of the neck skin really rounded out the final ending flavors on the palate. I chose not to have this skewer with any of the spices. Instead on the pairing with the sake, the transformation was for it to become drier and yet still emphasize its mild sweetness… quite the amazing pairing.
I am not a fan of chicken breast so the next skewer called sasami, I thought would be DOA (dead on arrival). This was chicken breast with shiso leaves and while these were not overly succulent, the divergent flavor of the shiso leaves brought home the uplifting but otherwise basic chicken breast. Let me be clear, their chicken breast is flavored, I just have a conniption against chicken breast period.
Next up was the chicken shoulder with whole mustard. I generally try to taste the individual components of a dish first but in this case, there is no way to taste the cut of chicken without the mustard. For me, this skewer required the pairing of the sake because the mustard was quite overpowering. The shoulder though is just as juicy and succulent as a chicken thigh. This is a fact that I did not realize until eating this so I give the restaurant great commendation for providing me with this discovery. The sake on pairing became luscious and almost silky like chocolate.
Next we had the broccoli. I have a love-hate relationship with broccoli but I was told that the sake I selected was a perfect pairing for this and given the amazing pairing of the last skewer, I readily welcomed the flavor. This broccoli was so perfectly crispy and the flavors of smoke are definite. The smoke flavor is not as strong as if you are smoking a cigar on this though the powerful experience of smoke on the palate is comparable. The broccoli is also quite buttery and I would definitely eat this everyday if I could prepare it this way. On sake pairing, it became drier and yet still lightly fruity almost in the guise of a Sancerre.
Next were the chicken wings which I readily welcomed considering my disastrous chicken wing experience in Atlanta, I was looking forward to this for redemption. For this skewer, I was told to dip it in the lemon and the red pepper mix. This wing is not completely boneless but the flavor is amazing. There is the saltiness of the base with some underlying sweetness but I am not sure where it comes from. I had tasted the pepper alone earlier but it had so much more of an enlivening property when had with the lemon and the chicken wing. I worried that pairing the sake would work against my traditional wine knowledge of pairing spicy with alcohol but in actuality in this case, it actually helped with the lingering heat.
The chicken knee came out at this time and this is the first introduction that I had to the knee of a chicken. You can think of the flavors as that of a thigh but ten times juicier. There is a very heavy flavor of lemon on the topping here and as is to be expected, that pairing brought out the fruit flavors of the sake. I was really full at this point which they took notice of and as such they offered me a plate to put in any pieces that I wanted to take to go. I was ever so grateful for this as I really would not have been able to make it through the meal otherwise.
I absolutely love gizzard and that is what came out next. Now gizzard does not reheat well which they let me know. I already knew this but it was great to have that validation of correct knowledge. I found that what they had achieved with this piece on flavors was immaculate with something akin to a salty brine that keeps on giving. I decided to switch sakes to one that was earthier and yet still sweeter. There was an elevation which brought on unending bliss to my palate.
I am not the biggest fan of zucchini but the way chef announced this piece was just too funny. He paused in dramatic exaggeration as though he had something gravely important to say about the skewer and then finally he says “It’s hot”. Now I realize writing this down it does not sound that funny but you just had to see his facial expression to see how funny this was. Now on flavor, it tasted like a hot and smokey zucchini and the freshly ground black pepper on this was the definite standout
The final savory piece that I had was the chicken meatballs. I was not sure what part of chicken was ground for this but I do know that it had to be dark meat. Paired with the green spice as recommended, there was a sweet umami that came up on flavor versus the expected spice. I do really feel that they should sell their spices in stores. I can see myself sprinkling them on eggs for a lovely start to the day.
Finally time for dessert and I barely made it there as I was so full. What I had was the poached strawberry green tea panna cotta. I found this to be balanced with the strawberry sweetness not being overwhelming. The final grounding flavor of green tea was very welcome by me.
So this was my chicken adventure with Torien and I do find them to be an incredible addition to the Yakitori landscape in New York. Go for the chicken, stay for the sake and live entertainment of the chefs.