Parts Are Greater Than the Sum of the Chicken at Torishin

Consider the chicken. Consider each part of the chicken. Consider eating each part of the chicken, one after another, grilled over charcoal at a yakitori restaurant called Torishin.

Dark neck meat first, gathered in a ruffle around a bamboo skewer. When stuck to its long root of bone, the neck is picky business to eat, but it is full of flavor when it is pared away and the outer bits are singed over charcoal and the fat starts to spill over the rest.

Now the tenderloin. Many tenderloins come to an ignominious end as “tenders,” encased in bread crumbs in the ketchup-smeared fingers of a toddler. But grilled lightly, so they firm up without scorching, they run with delicate pink juices.

Livers, of course, are seared very fast so they don’t get leathery. The rich, red insides are as soft as yogurt. They take well to a few grains of ground sansho pepper, enough to spark a slow buzz on the tongue. So do the hearts, done medium-rare, like steak.

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On the bird’s back, above the tail feathers, are the oysters. At Torishin they go under their French name, sot-l’y-laisse — “a fool leaves it.” They are grilled with their skin, which puckers and hisses and goes from creamy blue to gold.

For all I know the first yakitori chefs in Japan had nothing but efficiency in mind when they speared each anatomical bit on its own skewer. Fast-cooking livers can be pulled from the grill to make space, while other pieces take their time.

In the hands of the attentive chefs at Torishin, this technique produces something beyond convenience. Cooked separately, each part has a different pleasure to offer. Some you chew, and some you crackle. Some have cerebral appeal, others call to instinct.

The house style is sensitive to timing, averse to charring and careful with seasoning. The chicken is salted, brushed with a sauce called tare, which is less sweet at Torishin than at some other yakitori specialists, and grilled about an inch above long-burning sticks of binchotan, a Japanese charcoal. The cooks wave bamboo fans at the fire when it needs a boost.

Sitting on the tables and counters are vaguely humanoid gourds filled with sansho and the spice blend shichimi, as well as pitchers of soy sauce.

“Which skewers are good with soy?” I asked Atsushi Kono, the chef, one night when he was tending the coals.



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