1. Go in a small group, and go early – Clearly, the most fuss-free way of ensuring yourself a seat at a tiny and insanely successful restaurant is to make reservations beforehand. The catch here is that Yakitori Totto only accepts reservations before 7pm. Go there any later and you’re almost ensured of a 30mins – 1 hr wait. And when the weather is frigid and there is little room for more than 5 people to wait along the corridor, you really don’t want to try your luck at a walk in. Practically, a party of 2 has 5x more chances at scoring seats than a party of 8, plus the fun seats tend to be those at the bar where diners get to watch chefs skewer, grill and plate works of poultry art, so company really isn’t that important anyway.
2. Eat with your fingers – Ok… fine. So there really is no need to use your fingers besides picking up your grill skewers of succulent chicken meatballs stuffed into tiny and sometimes astonishingly hot Japanese peppers, or thin crunchy pieces of chicken skin, you don’t really need to dirty your hands. But your fingers remain the best instrument for fine handiwork, such as extricating the minute pieces of meat on the tender grilled chicken wing, or nibbling away at the crispy drumlets of Japanese fried chicken, marinated in an intoxicating sake/soy sauce mix. Not to mention being able to lick the tasty meatiness off your fingers when you’re done polishing off the half-dozen or so skewers each person is at least bound to order.
3. Be adventurous – Up last Monday, I had no idea what chicken oysters were. Now, not only do I know that it is a prized piece of dark meat located on the back of the bird, near the thigh, I also know that there are only 2 pieces of oysters per chicken, and that Yakitori Totto runs out of it early every evening. And of course, how it tastes, meatier than usual, and its texture, taut and slightly chewy like gizzards, when grilled simply over a charcoal fire. Never eaten chicken soft bone, heart and liver? Here’s your chance to try it. And while one visits a yakitori primarily for sticks of grilled chicken, the other menu items are at once varied, interesting, and tasty. My favorite rice dish is a triangle of grilled onigiri (rice ball) slathered with a thin layer of salty miso. The grill produces a smoky char on the miso, while the chiffonade of shiso leaves adds a pleasing scent and added complexity to the otherwise bland hunk of rice. A very unlikely success is a salad with microgreens, mini cream cheese cubes, pieces of little fish, deep fried to a crisp, and a half-cooked egg to bind it all. Sounds weird, but tastes awfully wonderful, both salty and rich, yet light at the same time.
So three rules, be early, eat without pretensions and cutlery, and explore the menu. Got it? Now go!
251 W55th St (2nd Flr)