There are certain restaurants you wish you could keep to yourself. It’s entirely selfish, but who wants to show up at one of their favorite spots only to find a longer line that usual and have no one to blame but themself? (Well, It’s true.) While I have mentioned Yakitori Totto in passing as one of my stand-by’s, I’ve never really shined the spotlight on it in fear I’d regret it.
So I thought I’d start the New Year off right by sharing my devotion to this killer yakitori joint in midtown. A bit of a hidden treasure, Yakitori Totto is a second floor walk-up with a small, street level sign with an image of a rooster on it. Climb the stairs and you’ll feel like you’ve entered into a pub straight out of Tokyo. There’s usually a wait at prime dining hours, so come early or put your name in and grab a drink next door. Now if you’re not familiar with yakitori, I’ll bottom line it for you. In Japanese, yakitori means “grilled bird” with an emphasis on head-to-toe chicken. Grilled chicken parts, like hearts, knees, skin and gizzards are considered delicacies in Japan and happen to be very tasty. But like most yakitori joints, Yakitori Totto put a lot more than just chicken on the grill, including terrifically fresh whole prawns, scallops, pork, garlic cloves, eggplant, and plenty more. And that’s just the food that’s cooked on the charcoal grill.
Some of my favorite dishes never touch the grill at all. There’s an excellent appetizer of soy marinated salmon roe (ikura), tender raw octopus marinated in fresh wasabi, homemade tofu, and tuna sashimi to name a few. But the best thing I ate this week was the Salmon Siokara, fermented salmon with ikura. Fermented salmon may not sound particularly appealing, but I promise you it is. It’s a little like salmon sashimi with a slightly rich, tangy flavor that I’ve become curiously addicted to. The salmon itself is petal soft and mingled with coral orange beads of salmon roe that burst in your mouth along with sake koji. In laymen’s terms, sake koji is the molded rice used to make sake and here, it lends the silky salmon texture and a subtle sweetness. It’s finished with grated daikon and a twig of rosemary and it’s worth the wait.
Address: 251 West 55th St., btwn. Broadway & 8th Aves.