Those who know me personally or have read enough of my food reviews should know that I can eat a large amount of food in one sitting. So when I recently took my mother to Yakitori Totto for an early mother's day dinner, I ended up having 28 skewers while my mom had 27. Trust me when I say that this is not normal. However, it also means I have notes on most of the menu.
I already had a good idea that we were going to eat a lot of skewers, so I put together a game plan to tackle it in 4 waves. Even though the skewers were served as soon as they were ready, the pacing was pretty good overall, and we only asked the chef to slow down a few times during the meal. Since chicken is usually the main focus of yakitori, we started off with skewers of various parts of the chicken.
With a sprinkle of salt, this had a robust mineral flavor and a nice soft, yet rich texture.
I always thought of the oyster (a rare part near the thigh revered for its tenderness) like a filet of beef. Tender, but not memorable as it's not particularly flavorful. Here they did a masterful job with a little bit of sauce and salt, and added to the texture by crisping up the outside. About as perfect as I would have imagined chicken oyster could be.
This had a rather unique, but enjoyable, texture that was not quite like fat and not quite like collagen, but along those lines.
The meat was tender and silky, streaked with fat but without that fatty mouth feel. I also appreciated the delicate cutting and portioning that went on before it was skewered.
The fragrant smell of grilled fat hits your nose immediately. The skin is crispy and the fat is somewhat rendered, but there is still a rich oiliness to each bite.
It was like eating chicken feet in a (good) way. Trying to get what little meat there was off the bone while biting through little bits of cartilage and soft tissue.
This was one of our favorites. Excellent texture that was toothsome but tender. Great flavor like you would expect from inner organs without being too strong.
The chicken thigh pieces came with pieces of grilled onion in between pieces of meat. The sweetness of the onion worked well in highlighting the aroma of the tender chicken.
As we finished up the different cuts of chicken, our second wave involved seafood and vegetables.
Nice and plump, but rather simple.
It looked like one decent-sized scallop that was thinly cut across into thirds. This allowed it to not get overcooked and remained sweet and juicy. I was disappointed that there was no coral (roe sac), which I've had before among the yakitori offerings at Soba Totto.
Another fragrant offering, the flavor was not overpowering at all as the cloves were served whole. The charred skin offered a hint of smokiness when I bit into it to extract the clove inside.
The shishito peppers were flavorful without being assertive, creating a delicate balance with the chicken meatball stuffed in it. The texture match was also great, and everything came together completely in each bite.
Perfectly cooked meat with the head still slightly runny. It smelled great and was a sizeable prawn, but did feel a tad expensive all things considered.
This was lightly salted and not fishy at all. Smelt has lots of roe, so it could be a surprising texture for those who haven't had it before.
Another possibly surprising taste for someone who's never had it before. It has a unique flavor that can be a little nutty, a little bittersweet, and a finish that reminded me of corn flavors.
Our third wave consisted mainly of heavier proteins such as pork and beef.
Chose this one with salt as opposed to sauce, and the salt comes through slowly, creating a very appetizing feeling with each bite.
The sweet sauce balanced well with the spicy mustard, coming together with the robust but not too fatty pork.
This was one of the specials of the day. You don't really get much with the initial bite, but there is a lot of concentrated lamb flavor that comes out slowly. I thought the subtlety was great as I'm used to eating lamb where the flavors come at you pretty hard.
Great flavor and texture, although I didn't think the onion fit in as well with this one as it did the other skewers.
The bacon was not too assertive and didn't mask the lighter tasting enoki. The mushroom was tender without being stringy or chewy as it often can be. Perhaps they cut it finely lengthwise before wrapping it. EDIT: Looking back, I think these were eringi (king oyster mushroom) and not enoki.
DUCK WITH SCALLION $4
This was one of those moments where we had to ask the chef to slow down as the pork neck, bacon enoki, and duck all arrived almost at the same time. I believe that was to blame for my lack of a picture. The duck had a rich flavor without being fatty while the scallion was a good foil.
This was the most disappointing skewer of the night. While the initial chews were fine, it just didn't melt away in the mouth like I've often come to expect of beef tongue, and became a chore to finish.
This one really felt like a complete dish. Excellent wagyu beef wrapped around enoki (eringi?) and vegetables was accompanied by some lightly grilled firm tofu in a very sweet and hearty sauce. It was very satisfying and a great skewer to have near the end of the meal. It's one of the more expensive skewers on the menu as it has wagyu beef, but well worth it.
The final wave consisted of repeats of the ones we liked most, including the chicken hearts, kalbi, shishito tsukune, and chicken thigh. This time around, two of the peppers on my shishito skewer were very spicy! I wonder if they just hadn't cleaned out the seeds properly.
I also wanted a repeat of the lamb leg steak, but the server misheard me and brought us the lamb chops. Contrary to the subtle lamb leg steak skewer, this one had a very strong flavor that hits you right in the face as the dish arrives. The meat is well done, but tender, and has a decent charred flavor. At $7 per chop, it's much cheaper than a steakhouse, but compared to all the other skewers on offer, I didn't think it was worth it.
Overall it was a great meal with lots of yummy food. The variety on offer was great, but what I really enjoyed was that many of the skewers were well composed and balanced in their own right, not just one random cut of meat among many.
251 W 55th St between Broadway & 8th Ave