Torishin is well known as one of NYC’s finest yakitoris, and to many NYC’s local foodies, this is their very best yakitori. Torishin sole michelin star (a sole star they seem to be very proud of.,,btw..) may set unrealistic expectations, but michelin starred yakitoris is not something unheard of (in Japan, they do exist). I am not always aligned on Michelin choices, but I agree with the idea to bestow Michelin stars (or any other sort of rewards) in relation to the standards of the category that a restaurant pertains to (for example, Sushi-ya, Yakitori-ya, etc).
Everything was excellent as far as food went:
Edamame was of top quality, served lightly grilled.
Chicken wings were no ordinary wings (1st item from the left on the previous picture), looking like ribs at first glance, the flavor of the wings was enhanced by the exciting taste of the grilled fat and a tasty crispy skin. Sounds easy to achieve, indeed, but in reality …..many are not capable to get it this right. 8/10 Grilled corn was a ridiculously small piece of corn, which although of great quality … had an inflated cost for the quantity served.
Chicken rib supremely tender and gorgeously meaty. It is easy to look down on food this simple. After all, this is just grilled meat. But time and again, I kept wondering if this was really that simple….as the precise cooking, exquisite seasoning, enticing grilling flavors as well as the vibrant textures on display are not that common at yakitori-yas in North America (although, to be honest, I prefer a laidback street food stand doing decent skewers rather this sort of sophisticated place..no need of bells and whistles for such simple food…the only reason I went there is because I wanted this sort of food, on that specific evening, but NYC has no street food offering this sort of food…) – 9/10
Chicken breast in green shiso leaf is one item I loved when eating yakitori food on my last visit in Tokyo. Back then, I was trying shiso leaf for the first time and found it to complement chicken meat really well…though, perhaps, an acquired taste for many palates. From where I come, it was common to pair meat with leaves. We did not have shiso leaves but betel and other leaves, instead. And eventhough they taste different, shiso and /or betel do add a complex taste sensation to meats that I am particularly fond of. Shiso having quite a taste that is hard to describe (a bit astrigent and reminding me vaguely of aniseed and basil), it is better to try it for yourself as any description of it will hardly do justice to its real taste. They add a bit of plum sauce on the leaves as to cut through the pungency of the shiso leaf. 9/10
Chicken and duck meatball is an item that I did not order, so when it was served to me, I thought they did a mistake. But no, it was not as … “it is on the house”… as/per my waiter — apparently a common gesture of the chef as to please his guest, but they did charge it …when the bill arrived….one of the pet peeves of an evening that could have been great otherwise.
Other pieces that I did enjoy: chicken tenderloin, chicken thigh, tofu as well as pork belly.
Pros – (1) While there is no elaborate cooking to be expected from a Yakitori-ya, it is no stretch to conclude that Torishin is one of the few standard bearers for yakitori food in North America. All in all, a strong 8/10 for the food – as genuine and perfected as yakitori food will taste, smell and feels like in North America (2) Fabulous service from all the squad except the 2 mentioned below
Cons – (1) Service was a mixed affair. the female squad offering world class service, the male squad generally professional but having two members that I could have done without: one man at the entrance, the only one wearing a suit on that evening, supposedly there to serve you drinks at the bar that is at the entrance while you are waiting for a seat. That guy in a suit acted as if we were invisible…we were just 2 at that bar. Not what you want at a michelin star restaurant. Then my main waiter, deploying all possible efforts to get me to buy as much food as it can possibly be. I mean, I know a restaurant is a business, therefore you need to sell and sell …but there are tons of waiters that are capable of better than being ..annoying (I have just ordered 12 items already….including the luxurious wagyu….some great sake and beer…so how much is enough sir?). That waiter’s idiotic behaviour reached its pinnacle when I left a tip that was actually twice the amount that it was supposed to be … he had, of course, to recount each single of the bills in front of his customer. (2)the surreal stone age tactic of offering me a food item that is supposedly on the house…but that you’ll still charge me for (the meat balls).
Bottom line: I enjoyed some of the very best Yakitori food in North America here (the quality of the produce and refinement of the cooking are largely ahead of anything you will find at the majority of the yakitori-yas across North America) and will return at Torishin BUT with in mind the sour observation that …some just can’t get the basic things right. The great yakitori food that they are cooking here does not deserve the flaws mentioned in the “cons” section. The flaws killed the mood, which is not really what I am looking for when dining out.
What I think weeks later: Some of their employees do obviously have no clue of what it takes to live up to the reputation of having a Michelin star. Charging a patron for an item that is supposedly “””””on the house”””” is a multiple-century old and boring tactic that you do not want to experience at a restaurant, Michelin starred or not. Now, Imagine when that happens at a Michelin starred restaurant. On the aspect of the food, I did compare Torishin to what is found in America and in that regard, this was some benchmark Yakitori food. If I compare it to what can be found in Tokyo, to take an example, ….well..things are a bit different: Torishin, in Tokyo, would be just a normal / standard yakitori-ya of the refined type. I did not review them on this blog, but last time I was in Tokyo, I tried Souten, Torikichi, Hachibei, Isehiro , some few more humble yakitori-yas there, and they dazzled, which is not what I would say of Torishin. Even a place like Tofuro …offering skewers that are better than at Torishin…and yet hardly considered in Tokyo’s top 100… would be a far better yakitori-ya if they’d choose to specialize themselves in grilled chicken.