Yakitori Totto, NYC
Cuisine: Japanese, Yakitori
Neighborhood: Midtown West
Price: $60-80 per person including drinks, tax, tip
Address: 251 West 55th Street 2nd Fl, NYC 10019
Phone: (212) 245-4555
Lunch: Mon – Fri 11:30am – 2:00pm
Dinner: Mon – Thu 5:30pm – 12am // Fri – Sat 5:30pm – 1:00am // Sun & Holidays 5:30pm – 11:00pm
There are only a couple reasons I would willingly hang out in Midtown outside of work: 1) the occasional artsy Broadway show indulgence and 2) Yakitori Totto. In terms of Japanese hype restaurants in Manhattan, Yakitori Totto is to yakitori as Ippudo is to ramen (although Totto Ramen has quite a cult following as well since opening in 2010). Yakitori Totto first opened in January 2004, and the buzz and wait times have yet to settle down. One of the few good things about working in Midtown is that I can get to Yakitori Totto at 5:30pm right when the doors open. The small restaurant gets packed by 6:30pm and walkins may wait for 2 hours during normal dinner hours. Reservations should be made well in advance (at least 2 dates prior); no same day reservations. The restaurant is located on the second floor and is marked by two simple signs of a rooster on the wall and a glowing black and white sign on the street. It sometimes can be easier to locate by the crowd of hungry fans loitering around the otherwise quiet 55th street.
Yakitori 焼き鳥 translates to “grilled chicken” in Japanese, although the term also refers to charcoal-grilled skewered foods in general. Ventilation here is decent but I still come away smelling like barbeque and ponzu… which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The clientele here is largely Japanese, although yakitori and izakaya devotees have managed to find their way here as well. The meats are of premium quality which are grilled in a traditional manner (not cooked all the way through). Almost all parts of a chicken is served here beyond the basic wing or thigh; there is also chicken skin, soft knee bone, tail, heart, gizzard and the succulent delicacy: chicken oysters. There are plenty of beef, pork, and vegetable skewers on the menu as well. You can choose either a simple salt seasoning or ponzu sauce, which is a sweet mirin soy sauce. I prefer basic salt, unless it is Negi Pon (grilled pork with scallions and ponzu) where ponzu is required obviously.
For those looking to mellow down the inevitable meat sweats, there are also refreshing seaweed salads, crispy dumplings, tofu dishes, cold sobas, pickled veggies, and hot pot rice dishes. The food here is all pretty delicious but it is certainly not cheap. Most of the yakitoris are $3 per skewer and washing them down with a few refreshing Kirin beers is a highly desirable pairing. To be fully satiated for dinner here will set you back around $60-80 per head. Another con is that service can be a bit spotty with forgotten orders, unhelpful recommendations, and you are likely to be rushed in your meal. But once in a while (aka those few occasions I would be in Midtown), I think the food is worth the hassle.
In a small party of 2, I prefer sitting at the counter where you can watch the grilling magic happen. Otherwise, with a 4+ party, I quite enjoy the semi-private rooms in the back corner. Yakitori Totto is a great spot for a pre-theatre dinner or to enjoy with coworkers right after work – both of which would require you to arrive before 6pm to ensure seating.
For other high quality Asian barbeque joints in Manhattan, try Takashi Yakiniku (yakiniku = “grilled meat” and is typically skewer-less) in the West Village and Don’s Bogam in Ktown.
Spicy Cucumber Pickle ピリ辛 キュウリ一本漬け: marinated with spicy miso
Tsukemono Mori Awase 漬け物盛り合わせ: assorted pickles
TOFU / SALAD / VEGETABLE DISHES
Agedashi Tofu 揚げ出し豆腐: deep fried tofu in dashi broth
Avocado & Tuna Salad アボツナ with tobiko (flying fish roe)
Kaisou Salad 海藻サラダ: seaweed salad w/ Japanese plum dressing
MEAT / TASTY DISHES
Amakara Age 甘辛揚げ: sweet spicy deep-fried chicken
Jidori Karaage 地鶏唐揚げ: Japanese style fried chicken
Mizore Gake 米茄子,揚げ餅のナメコみぞれがけ: deep-fried eggplant & mochi with sweet spicy sauce containing daikon & nameko mushroom
Negima ネギ間 with scallion: chicken
Negi Pon 豚ねぎポン: pork loin w/ scallion & ponzu
Harami ハラミ: skirt steak
Karubi カルビ : beef short rib
Hiza Nankotsu ひざなんこつ: soft knee bone
Chicken Oyster ソリレス: rare part of thigh
Shishito ししとう (味噌): green pepper with miso
Shiitake 椎茸: japanese shiitake mushroom with sea salt
Asparagus Bacon アスパラベーコン
Shishito Tsukune ししとうつくね with chicken stuffing
NOODLE & RICE DISHES
Tokusen Oyako Don 特選地鶏 親子丼: chicken, eggs & over rice
Sato Yosuke’s Inaniwa Udon 佐藤養助の稲庭うどん: Hot or Chilled