Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Toriyoshi, Ginza (鳥よし)

A work dinner with Koala, Ponyo, and three guys who don't have cute nicknames (and for some reason don't inspire me to assign any). There were some elements of tastiness, but this seemed like run-of-the-mill yakitori to me despite some recommendations. I did pick it from a list, so I'll take responsibility; live and learn.

First things first: it's hard to find, being hidden in plain sight on Ginza Corridor Street (the long row of shops under the Yurakucho train tracks). We walked right by it, looking intently at every sign. After a few more blocks we called, and they told us "Look for the sign of this other place, Negishi (ねぎし)". That's a good description; their sign is a small lantern at ground level, while all the other places have some kind of dramatically lit signage to stand out in that bright and crowded street.

Inside looks like it used to be sushi! The front is a counter with glass cabinets wherein they store all the pre-skewered chicken bits, while in back is a small private room (holds 6, really, and that was us). The front is really dark; perhaps the better to hide the smokiness?

As a private-room group, we had no choice other than 'omakase'. This started with a bowl of grated daikon topped with a raw quail egg, some pickles, and three slices of chicken breast 'cured' in vinegar. That last item would look raw to you if you were American, and I have to say that the freshness and taste were a bit lacking compared to raw chicken slices I may have eaten in the past. Zan nen, a worriesome way to start.

Available items at yakitori are divided into three groups for me: 'safe' meats, 'scary' meats, and vegetables. They started things off nice and safe with meatballs (although chicken meatballs in Japan always include bits of cartilege, which lots of people like to gnaw on. Not me.) and kashiwa; one of my colleagues translated kashiwa as 'head', which puzzles me. In addition to 'oak' (tree), the dictionary says it means 'white meat chicken', so I guess that was a safe element. Certainly it wasn't objectionable. Next were quail eggs, always a staple item. And then we started the descent to hell...

I know a lot of people like this stuff, but crunchy or overly chewy meat is difficult for me, as is liver (not pate, not foie. Heavens!). Thus the sunagimo ('sand liver', gizzard), the chigimo (that's my best guess; it was 血肝, and no one else knew how to say it either, but it was just regular chicken liver. Albeit in a large portion...), the skin (lovely when crisped, but not when singed on the edges and just heated in the middle), and the god-only-knows-what-this-intestine-thing-is-but-it-has-a-weird-'nugget'-in-the-middle-and-I-staying-away-from-it were all a bit hard on my delicate sensibilities. Ah well. At least a number of them were nicely fried, with plenty of smoky goodness.

There were some other good things, of course. The shishitou, small green peppers, were good (I'm partial to them), and the 'sabi yaki', lightly-seared chicken tenderloin (raw in the middle) with generous applications of wasabi on top, was great. Not for all readers, of course, due to the wasabi. Oh, and the rawness. The masterstroke (or at least the last item on the course) is the duck breast with negi (Welsh onion? Spring onion? Much thicker than what I think of for these terms, but not a leek). We learned at this point from one colleague that eating more duck actually neutralizes the calories in the other items! Yay! There were various rice bowls to fill in the cracks (egg 'n' chicken or else minced chicken), as if any cracks existed by this point, and also a really nice chicken soup with bits of onion in it. Healthy.

Yakitori remains a mystery to me, so I'll refrain from judgement. Do keep in mind that Antwerp Central is practically across the street, and also remember that you probably shouldn't go to 'The Wine Bar', which is directly across the street. They mostly have only bottle wines; it's an old-style wine bar. Although that means the decor is very satisfyingly Art Nouveau, which could be good for you once.

Other stores in Nakame, Nishi Azabu...よ~~~しっ!

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