Grilled as you like it

Torikomachi October 18, 2009

Filed under: Eating,Japan,Maebashi — laurel @ 10:39 pm
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Torikomachi’s jidori tsukune

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).

Torikomachi’s bar

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.

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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.

ume-jiso sasami

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

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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.



The joy of chicken skin May 6, 2008

pari-pari tori-kawa sarada: who says salad has to be good for you?

Boneless, skinless chicken breast is probably America’s favorite cut of meat – it’s quick and easy to prepare, mild-flavored, and lean. Everybody likes chicken breast, right? As a result, a package of boneless, skinless breasts can be quite expensive. In Japan, on the other hand, the legs, thighs, and wings are the favorite cuts. Chicken breast is always cheap, and I have seen it on sale for as little as 39 yen for 100 grams (about $1.60/lb). I foolishly stocked up on several packages of cheap chicken breasts when they were on sale a while back and now I’m trying to figure out what to do with them. I’ve come to the conclusion that Japan is right about chicken. The thighs and legs are where it’s at. The breasts are too lean, too dry, and too mild. I have turned some into chicken katsu but it needs to marinade for a while to develop any flavor at all.

I have really learned to appreciate chicken’s other cuts at some restaurants nearby. There is a yakitori shop down the street that makes great tsukune, grilled chicken meatballs. I don’t know exactly what’s in her recipe, but I’ve heard that the secret to a delicious and flavorful tsukune is organ meats and some cartilage ground very fine. Whatever the recipe, the tsukune is fabulous there. At Aburiyatei, our favorite izakaya nearby, they really know how to cook delicious chicken. Of course, they make great kara-age (Japanese-style fried chicken), but who doesn’t? Sometimes we order a sampler of yakitori. My favorite is the wings, grilled until they’re crispy and delicious and served with a sprinkling of salt. I also found out that I really like the gizzards, who’d have thought it? Another dish that’s surprising and delicious is the pari-pari tori-kawa sarada, or crispy-crispy chicken skin salad. It’s a pile of leaf lettuce, long onions, and shredded daikon with a tangy ponzu dressing. Instead of being topped with croutons, it’s finished with crispy deep-fried chicken skin. It’s delicious, crispy, and so much more flavorful than crispy bread or noodles would be. My favorite chicken discovery there was the tori-kawa gyoza. It was a daily special, so I’ve only tried it once, but I always check the specials list for it, just in case it’s back. The tori-kawa gyoza was gyoza wrapped in chicken skin instead of the traditional wheat-noodle wrapper. They were skewered and griddled until they were browned and crispy. It was a delicious reminder of how good a part most people think is not worth eating can be.

America, how lucky you are that the best parts of the chicken are also the cheapest.