The purpose of my last trip to Japan in October was to study Yakitori in the country that birthed the cuisine. I wanted to understand what Yakitori looks, smells, sounds, and tastes like when executed at the highest level in the motherland.
Few months prior to this trip as I was learning Yakitori on my own, I asked a friend who was visiting Japan to search for and bring back a book called Yakitori Technique. This highly rated comprehensive cookbook features 鳥しき-Torishiki and あやむ屋-Ayamuya, two of Japan’s several Michelin-rated Yakitori shops showing how they breakdown, skewer, and grill their chickens at their shops.
Because it’s so detailed, I have been obsessively reading this book to absorb every word on how the masters do their Yakitori, right down to things like what temperature or time to cook the different parts of the chicken for the best flavor per part. Because I was visiting Tokyo, I wanted to visit one of the featured restaurants in the book, Torishiki operated by Master Ikegawa Yoshiteru.
Reservations for Master Ikegawa’s Torishiki are hard to get as they fill up months in advance so I was unable to visit the shop during my last training trip in October. However, I was able to sit down at the the next best thing, Toriyoshi - Nakameguro, where Master Ikegawa formally trained for 8 years before opening Torishiki.
From what I have read, Toriyoshi is also the shop where New York’s Michelin Star Yakitori shop Torishin’s Master Shu Ikeda trained at as well, so the place has to be legit!
Toriyoshi is located in Nakameguro, a more residential part of Tokyo than a more commercial area like Shibuya. However even the residential neighborhoods in Tokyo are bustling with commercial life, especially with an abundance of quality dining options.
As you walk about 5 minutes from the 中目黒 - Nakameguro train station you come across the wooden sliding doors and a sign that says 鳥よし - Toriyoshi. Boxes of real Kishu Binchotan are stacked up front, so you know you’re at a restaurant serving quality Yakitori!
Slide open Toriyoshi’s doors and step inside to what feels like an Edomae Sushi restaurant. Clean and bright with natural food decor all around with glass refrigerated cases displaying all the pre-made Yakitori skewers. All the workers in the center wearing white attire with headbands, just like Master Ikegawa. Make sure to hang your jacket on the coat hangers behind you, you’re going to need all the upper body room to enjoy the Yakitori and drinks!
There were about 4-5 grill masters working in the center, each designated to serve the 5-6 person section the bar seats.
As you sit down, it’s customary to be asked what you'd like to drink. I always ask for the “nama” meaning raw which is fresh beer from the tap, usually Sapporo or Asahi. Shochu is also very popular. Ordering hot green tea is acceptable if you don’t drink alcohol. Along with the drinks, the server handed right over the glass counter a dish of simple nukazuke - pickled cucumbers and daikon - as well as a dish of grated daikon with soy sauce and a quail yolk on top.
From there you can order off what’s written on the slat boards on the wall or just start pointing at the skewers in the glass display. Honestly you can’t go wrong with any skewer here, but I've created a skewer by skewer guide and review below to help with some of your choices.
Some skewers were presented individually, some came in multiples, some skewers came out before another one I ordered previously. I guess it just depends on what comes off the grill first. Also because popular or limited skewers like Sori (Chicken oysters) might run out, you may want to order them first.
Kashiwa and Tsukune
かしわ-Kashiwa is a skewer that consists of thigh and breast meat, both with skin attached on the meat. In this version two juicy thigh pieces were skewered on top and the breast pieces was placed on the bottom of the skewer. However some shops may alternate thigh-breast-thigh on their Kashiwa skewers. I don’t usually use breast meat at Brewzakaya because it’s generally a bland cut, but when served along with the thigh meat along with the skin on the same skewer it was enjoyable.
The つくね-Tsukune (ground meat) were smaller balls than many other shops, but this made it very easy to bite off the skewers. A very simple Tsukune, that’s not heavy. Easy way to start the meal.
Next up was the “carpaccio” which is Toriyoshi’s take on Torisashi (Chicken Sashimi). These cold slices of raw breast are served two ways at Toriyoshi and I ordered both. One with freshly grated wasabi and another one with grated parmesan cheese and olive oil. I prefer the standard fresh wasabi version as it was more refreshing and went well with the rest of the meal.
さび焼き-Sabiyaki is another name for grilled sasami (tender) that has wasabi on top (hence “sabi”). This Sabiyaki was still a bit pink inside, meaning it was perfectly cooked for mune or sasami Yakitori. Nice and tender. Also just the right amount of wasabi, which was rubbed on the chicken with the chef’s fingers, which surprised me at first. But since sushi chefs use their fingers for putting wasabi on Nigiri, I’m open to this.
Kawa and Sunagimo
皮- Kawa is skin. Rather than longer strips these were layers of smaller pieces so it came off cleanly from the skewers. Very good smoke, however I think they pre-boil it a bit, as it was more chewy than crispy. Pre-boiling the skin makes it easier to skewer, but it also cooks out some of the essential fats. To achieve a good extra crispy Kawa you slowly grill the skewer to let all the fat render from the inside out. I personally prefer to eat and serve non-boiled skin for my Brewzakaya guests to get this extra crispy skin.
Along with the Kawa skewer came out the 砂肝-Sunagimo - "sand guts". This is the gizzard, a digestive organ in birds where gravel is kept inside to help breakdown seeds since birds don’t have teeth to chew their food.
This crunchy skewer is definitely one of my favorites. Especially when it’s fresh it can be perfectly cooked with a pink center which keeps the crispy gizzard texture yet is not dry and rubbery.
軟骨-Nankotsu means cartilage, and usually refers to the soft chest cartilage. This is crunchy and smokey. Nankotsu is always a delight to order as you only get only one chest cartilage per whole chicken. A skewer with 4-5 cartilage pieces can be limited, so make sure to order before they run out!
ぼんじり-Bonjiri is the triangular shaped tail of the chicken. Mostly cartilage and fats, the tail skewer is crispy on the outside and fatty on the inside. There is also the tail bone inside which is crunchy. Awesome!
白玉-Shira (shiro) Tama means white balls. Usually on the menu as Uzura, quail eggs for Yakitori are marinated in soy or tare and are brown, but these eggs at Toriyoshi were plain white and just salted before being grilled. This alternate style is clean and good too!
The 手羽-Teba chicken wings are split and filleted. They were perfectly cooked and easy to bite off the skewers. I personally am a fan of Teba to be cooked whole and not filleted. It takes longer to cook but the meat is much juicier inside with crispy skin outside.
The ソリ-Sori or the chicken oysters are the most tender part of the chicken thighs. The word Sori is short for Soriresu (French: Sot-l'y-laisse) which translates to only the fool leaves it behind. These were big juicy pieces and intensely satisfying to enjoy each bite with my beers.
げんこつ-Genkotsu, also known as Hiza Nankotsu, is the knee cartilage and the thigh meat around it. You get the chewy and crunchy bite from the cartilage as well as the juicy thight meat so it’s definitely a fun skewer. Make sure to order it before they run out!
Dipped in tare, the レバ- Leba here is fatty white and is very creamy. With fresh liver, you don’t have to cook it for a long time, so you don’t get the iron heavy flakey texture found in dry and overcooked liver. If you never liked liver or tried it before, I recommend to order it here at Toriyoshi where it’s executed perfectly, and the tare here is delicious.
Shokudo and Hatsumoto
The 食道-Shokudo is the esophagus which is taken out from the chicken when removing the digestive tract. This was the first time trying esophagus. Very fatty and soft.
The ハツモト-Hatsumoto is the artery/blood vessels part that’s separated from the muscular part of the heart. You can see the artery sticking out the side in the photo. The Hatsumoto renders in its own fat and so it is a bit crunchy and chewy but because it's part of the heart, it has a nice red meat-like flavor.
Our group was already full from the many skewers so we did not opt for a shime rice dish which is how you normally would close off a Yakitori meal. Instead we opted for a non meat skewer and went with 銀杏-Ginnan. These gingko nuts are similar to eating roasted chestnuts and are a bit starchy like biting into a potato, but it is not mushy and has a chewy bite, similar to roasted garlic. Lightly salted and when mixed with the tare on the plate, the Ginnan was a nice clean finish to this big meal.
Okaikei Onegai Shimasu! Check Please!
At Toriyoshi, the cooks keep track of your skewers using a system of colored plastic chips which they add into a basket in front of your table every time you order a skewer. It is enigmatic as a customer observing it, but it appears to be a very efficient system as our assigned cook quickly sorted through the chips and the total bill came out quickly. From photos of Torishiki, Master Ikegawa uses this method too to keep count.
A Must Visit!
It was such a pleasure to enjoy a meal at Toriyoshi. Clean, fresh, upscale, yet energetic and the crowd diverse from young businessman to families, and tourists. The restaurant is worth the 15-30 minute wait. Get there early as some of the rare skewers may run out.
The grilling masters/cook were friendly and explained anything whenever I asked. The quality of the food, the range of the skewers, and the atmosphere is for sure a step up from anything in the states. I was also excited to experience the similarities with Master Ikegawa's Torishiki methods since he trained at Toriyoshi. The best part for me was being able to closely observe classic Yakitori cooking executed at a high level of sophistication, an experience which definitely has contributed to the growth of my own Yakitori for Brewzakaya.
I give it a 4.5/5 Yakitoriguy Stars!