Well it’s been a while since I’ve posted any local restaurant reviews and I’ve been thinking it’s high time. So let’s take a look at Torikomachi, my favorite neighborhood spot for yakitori. You can find Torikomachi just south of Maebashi Station on the same road that leads to Keyaki Walk (the Kinokuniya entrance). Although you can find Torikomachi in Tokyo and other cities around Japan, the sign next to the grill says that they use Joshu jidori (Gunma-raised free-range chickens).
If you come with a group you can get a table, but on busy nights, singles and couples usually sit at the bar. If you sit on the far side from the door you can watch the grill-master at work.
If you’re feeling hungry and not wanting to try picking and choosing from the Japanese-only menu, you can choose one of the two set courses in the back of the menu (for two). The “Ume” course includes chopped cabbage, jidori tsukune, one sumi-yaki chicken half to share, yaki-onigiri, tebasaki to yasai nikomi and vanilla ice cream or chicken soup. The “Take” course is all of the same items, except that you get an order of the hitsumabushi rice dish instead of the yaki-onigiri. The set courses are a good variety, but it’s certainly a lot of food, so if you’re not starving, you might want to put together your own selection from the menu.
If you’re ordering a-la-carte, here’s what I’d recommend: first thing after you sit down, order one stick of the jidori tsukune (above) for each person in your group. The jidori tsukune is basically a chicken meatball that’s been slowly grilled and then served with a sweet soy sauce and a raw egg yolk that you can use to paint on another layer of richness on top of the sauce. It’s like a yakitori take on “oyako.”
Sumi-yaki jidori half
While you’re at it, order the sumi-yaki jidori half or whole. Order it right when you arrive because it takes about 30 or 40 minutes to cook. This is one of the best roast chickens that I’ve ever had. It’s slow-grilled over charcoal. The skin is delightfully crispy and seasoned with salt and garlic and the meat is nicely flavorful.
From the grill (clockwise from top left): yaki-onigiri, chicken liver, hanpen-cheese, aspara-maki
After you order your sumi-yaki chicken you have some time to check out the rest of the menu. There is a great selection of yakitori and kushi-yaki skewers. In addition to the usual chicken or negima skewers, don’t overlook the sunagimo (gizzards) and liver, which are nicely browned and smoky tasting around the edges and tender in the center. Mmm… I also like the hampen-cheese skewers (steamed fish cake with melted cheese), aspara-maki, and meat-stuffed shiitake mushrooms. There’s also a full-page list of flavored tsukune, but I think that the classic jidori tsukune is the best.
The yaki-onigiri is browned and crunchy on the outside and topped with a salty-sweet sauce. The charcoal grill gives it a little smoky flavor too. You might be thinking, “oh, it’s just a grilled rice ball,” but trust me, it’s a darn good grilled rice ball.
One of the yakitori items that you shouldn’t miss is the sasami. These are chunks of the chicken tender that are seared on the outside but rare in the middle. They’re juicy and delicious. My favorite is ume-jiso sasami.
close-up view of ume-jiso sasami
Side-dishes (clockwise from top left): tebasaki to yasai nikomi, marinated okra (otoshi), hitsumabushi , torikomachi salad
Finally, why not try some delicious side dishes? You will get an otoshi (starter) when you sit down: it’s a small side dish of vegetables or sometimes spicy konnyaku. The best side dish (I think so anyways) is the tebasaki to yasai nikomi. It’s a stew made with long-simmered chicken wings in a miso broth with vegetables. The chicken wings are so tender that the cartilage is like gelatin and the broth is super thick and rich. It’s fantastic! The torikomachi salad is made with slices of barely seared chicken with Italian dressing. It’s pretty good, and when you’re eating so much chicken it’s nice to have some greens. If you didn’t get the yaki-onigiri and you’re craving some rice, the hitsumabushi is made with crispy chicken skin, slices of chicken, takuan, green onions and chile threads. First you stir it up and eat some, then you can pour the hot chicken broth on top and eat it like rice porridge.
Torikomachi is open every day except Sunday. There is another Gunma location in Isesaki.