If you can’t get to Japan, dinner at Yakitori Tori Shin may be the next best thing.
Many travelers, especially foodies, seek out authentic experiences uniquely tied to specific places or cultures. But it’s especially nice when you hap upon authenticity close to home. Such was the case when we stumbled into Yakitori Tori Shin, located on First Avenue near East 65th Street on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Well, it wasn’t exactly a stumble: The restaurant came recommended by our son.
“It’s the only Michelin-starred Yakitori restaurant in New York,” he said. Since we had never been to one, it seemed like this might be the place to try.
First, some warnings:
- Do not go here if you don’t like chicken. Chicken dominates the menu.
- Do not go here if you aren’t an adventurous eater. You probably won’t recognize much of what you are served and ordering can be challenging.
- Do not go here if you are queasy about eating unusual chicken parts such as hearts, kidneys, livers, gizzards, neck skin, and grizzle parts.
That said, this week, the Zagat Guide named it the best chicken restaurant in New York City, calling it a “chicken haven.” Take that Pio Pio! (An excellent Peruvian restaurant specializing in rotisserie chicken with three locations in Manhattan and others in the Bronx and Queens.)
Walking into the restaurant may be a bit disarming. It is a very intimate (small) room where diners seat around a U-shaped counter with the chefs putting on a show in the open kitchen in the middle. Almost like an airplane, there is little room between you and your seatmates. Although there are a few regular tables, if you are seated there you will miss much of the action. One of the walls is lined with chairs for waiting customers. The place was packed the evening we ate there, primarily with Japanese diners. We had to wait about 15 minutes for our reservation.
Food & Service
“Yakitori” is the term used for Japanese-style skewered chicken threaded on bamboo skewers. Once popular primarily as street food, it is now being served in more sophisticated restaurants in Japan.
The chefs at Tori Shin use this traditional method to cook every part of the chicken over special grills with white bincho-tan charcoal that sears the meat on the outside while leaving it juicy and succulent at its center. All the ingredients used at Tori Shin are high quality (think sushi-grade if it were a fish place) and organic, including the chicken, vegetables and sake. Each of the skewers comes with about 3-5 bite-size chunks.
While an a la carte menu is offered too, unless you are familiar with yakitori, ordering on your own can be challenging. So we opted for the Chef’s 10-course omakase (Japanese for “I’ll leave it up to you”), fixed-price tasting menu at $55 per person. Beer, sake and wine (also available, by the glass) were extra.
The dinner included an amuse bouche, pickled vegetables, 6 skewers of different chicken parts, 2 skewers of seasonal vegetables, rice, and dessert. The cooks and servers, both inside the counter and behind us were entertaining, attentive and engaging. We particularly appreciated them explaining each of the dishes set before us although I’m sure a lot was probably lost in translation. Some of our favorite skewers were the chicken meatballs and the chicken oysters, made from a juicy part of the chicken near the thigh.
If you can’t get to Japan, try this bite-sized chunk of Tokyo closer to home.
IF YOU GO
- The restaurant is temporarily closed for lunch and is never open on Mondays.
- Dinner reservations can be made on Open Table.
OUR PHOTO GALLERY FROM YAKITORI TORI SHIN
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