Saturday, January 16, 2010

Dinner at Soba Totto (food)

I had actually never been to any of the restaurants in the Torys group before. Well-known for tasty and authentic Japanese food, restaurants in the group such as Yakitori Torys, Yakitori Totto, and Aburiya Kinnosuke have made a good name for themselves. I wasn't actually planning on going to Soba Totto, but Yasuda was closed for the holidays and it's across the street.

Atmosphere: Soba Totto manages to give a feeling of authenticity and rustic comfort while at the same time is just sleek enough for being in Midtown. The bar is separate from the main dining room, which consists of both tables and a long counter in front of the yakitori chefs. A raised glass partition helps to block out the smoke while offering a nice view of your skewers of food being cooked.

Food: Soba Totto offers both the yakitori that the group is famous for, as well as handmade soba. As is the case with places like these, I wanted to try everything, and I kind of did.

Beef sukiyaki skewers with scallions and quail egg. I don't quite get the raw quail egg thing. This was ok but a little too sweet.

One of the main problems with cooking scallops in this manner is that it is very easy to end up with a chewy, rubbery, texture. That was the case here, but I don't really see how to avoid it. The sweetness of the scallop was nice but the highlight was the coral (roe) which had developed a nice slightly charred crunchy exterior.

I usually like small oily fishes, but this smelt wasn't anything special.

Now we get to the free range chicken. These are part of the special "limited menu" as there are less of these parts per chicken. From left to right, the chicken oyster (which they describe on the menu as a rare part of the thigh), soft knee bones (think cartilage), and the liver. All three were terrific and I would recommend ordering these three together because of the spectacular textural contrast. The chicken oyster was super tender while the soft knee bones offered up some good chewing and the livers had great flavor.

Chicken skin. I would have preferred it if they were crispier, but this is definitely great for accompanying a cold beer.

Tsukune, which is essentially minced chicken. They describe it as a chicken meatball, but I would say it's closer to sausage. Think something like an adana kebab. This was tasty, but I've had better.

The special limited hand-made soba (I think only a limited number of orders per day) was very good, but definitely pricey. I think for $18 I would rather have the soba at Matsugen. In the upper left is the laminated page they provide describing how to best enjoy your soba. I found it amusing that at the bottom of the page it says that slurping is necessary to enjoy the full flavor of the soba.

Still curious about other items on the menu, I had the kobe beef tongue on the left and the berkshire pork with lemon and mustard on the right. These were both fantastic. The pork was delicious and fatty and went well with the lemon and mustard. The kobe beef tongue was delicious and tender as you would expect beef tongue to be. I don't really get the kobe thing though. I'm sure just that name alone is justification for them to charge $8 for that skewer, but just how different is kobe beef tongue compared to regular beef tongue? I mean, I doubt the guys who massage the cows massage their tongues as well.

In summation, it's a great place to go have a drink with some friends and eat some great Japanese drinking food (rather than Western bar food). However, if you're a big eater like me, those $3 skewers add up really quickly, and the portions aren't exactly big. After t/t I think my meal was $80+.

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