Yakitori cuisine has been booming in recent years, so it comes as no surprise that we’re seeing yet another hopeful crop up: Meet Torien, officially open for business in New York’s Midtown Manhattan. Brought to you by Yoshiteru Ikegawa—who has been called the greatest yakitori chef in the world—as well as Showa Hospitality, Torien is an offshoot Ikegawa’s one-MICHELIN-starred (and highly sought-after) Torishiki in Tokyo.
“Since the Edo era of Japan and for over 400 years, Japanese people have used charcoal to grill chicken. It is still being done the same way. We wanted to represent old school yakitori culture to New York City and show the world what yakitori is really about,” Ikegawa says of his first stateside foray. Yakitori, aka “grilled chicken” in Japanese, dates back to the Meiji era (1868 to 1912), and only became mainstream in the late 1950s. And, as previously stated, there has been a flux of yakitori restaurant openings in the USA in recent years: Death Punch Bar in Washington, D.C., and Toriko and Maison Yaki in New York City opened up last year alone. What sets Torien apart from the rest is that Ikegawa and crew are offering yakitori via an omakase format, just like its Tokyo sibling.
So welcome—step beyond the Japanese rock garden and into the sleek space designed by Tokyo-based Oyamatsu Design Studio as you claim your spot at the 20-foot-long 16-seat kusunoki (camphor) wood counter.
The tasting menu here goes for $150 per person. Patrons can expect a variety of skewers grilled over binchotan sourced straight from Japan, starting with vegetarian courses like grilled shiitake mushrooms before moving onto chicken in all fashions, from wings and thighs to ground chicken meatballs, heart and nami (neck skin)—Ikegawa’s personal favorite—and a toridashi chicken soup course to end the meal on a comforting note. The kitchen is led by Yoshiteru Maekawa who trained under Ikegawa in Tokyo for three years; Ikegawa plans on making visits to the property twice a year.
Meanwhile at the bar, head sommelier Akio Matsumoto (most recently of Tokyo’s L’Effervescence), brings forth a crafted menu of sake, wines by the glass and sake- and shochu-based cocktails.
“I can’t want to see the facial expression of New Yorkers eating binchotan-grilled yakitori for the first time—that really excites me,” Ikegawa says of his first New York City restaurant. “For me, yakitori is a full experience. You hear the sound of the unique charcoal crackling and the meat sizzling. While you smell the aroma of the meat grilling, you can watch the chefs handle and prepare the food with extreme care. This is something that gets imprinted in your memory.”
Torien is located at 292 Elizabeth Street and open on Tuesday through Sunday from 6:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.
Photos by Liz Clayman.