Friday, September 22, 2006

Chicken, or That Lowly Bother

Bacon-wrapped Enoki at Yakitori Totto
Image courtesy of eGullet (Daniel)

When Ms. Beyond the Quail read in Anthony Bourdain’s book, A Cook’s Tour, about the wonders of Japan’s yakitori, she got a hankering and requested that we hightail it to Yakitori Totto on 55th and 8th, post-haste. Now, Yakitori means chicken, skewered and grilled chicken. And if there’s one thing that doesn’t excite us, it’s chicken. Bland, ubiquitous meat, largely flavorless, with a nasty, slimy texture when raw. Raw chicken skin and chicken fat are two of our least favorite things, at least in comparison with other meats. So, needless to say, expectations were moderate at best.

All is forgiven, little fowl. Yakitori Totto exceeded those expectations and just kept on going.
The meat tastes moist and flavorful, pleasantly salty, and they use offal, cartilage, and even softened bone to vary the texture. The clear winners on the menu among the patrons were the chicken meatballs, in different variations. The one stuffed in a shishito pepper (our old Tia Pol favorite) is especially delicious. But the unlikely favorite for us is the chicken tail, cut into cylindrical sections and crisped on the grill. They’re like little poppers, not far off from the fried hominy at Cookshop. There are still a number of menu items we’d like to try, like the bacon-wrapped enoki pictured above. Really everything was stellar, but the tail is a winner.

The night ended with a twist. On the way out of Yakitori Totto, who should we pass on the stairs but Anthony Bourdain himself! Quite a coincidence, considering that his recommendation was for yakitori in Japan, not in midtown. New Yorkers are supposed to be inured to celebrity, and usually we are, but seeing Bourdain was a genuine thrill. Consider us big fans. If you track down his books or watch his show No Reservations, you won’t be sorry. The guy’s a good writer, and his recent career shift has made him something of an adventurer. That’s a rare combination in the modern age, don’t you think?

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