This story begins a few years ago, when Sara and I were visiting her family in Japan. One of our first nights there, Sara’s sister, brother-in-law, and close family friend took us to an Izakaya (focused on Yakitori). I didn’t know it at the time, but there was a long discussion about whether or not I would be ok at an Izakaya or Yakitori restaurant. Sara held off on telling me this until a few years later, after we had started living together in LA. I was shocked. Everyone that knows me knows that I love food… all kinds of food… EVERYTHING!!! Sara also is a fan of Izakayas as it turns out, and so we began our Izakaya quest in Los Angeles. We tried a number of different restaurants and quickly came to the realization that there are a lot of Izakayas in LA, but only a handful that are actually good. One day, while waiting to be seated at Furaibo, some people waiting outside with us recommended we try Yakitoriya, just a block or so away. I’d often seen Yakitoriya while driving down Sawtelle, but in all of the years I’ve lived here, I’ve never stopped there to eat. From the outside, it’s a very unassuming place… almost hidden away. You could drive by for years and never notice it, but that would be a huge shame.
So, one night, Sara and I finally decide that we want to try out Yakitoriya. We headed down to Sawtelle, searched around for a parking spot, and finally made our way into Yakitoriya. The restaurant is fairly small, comprised of a few smaller tables, a couple of larger tables, and a counter/bar with a front row view of the open kitchen. Toshi-san, the owner/chef prepares all of the Yakitori on a grill in front of the customers. One of my favorite things about Toshi-san is that he uses Bincho charcoal imported from Japan in his grill. The smell of Bincho charcoal is distinct as you enter the restaurant, and as you taste the food, you will notice that special extra bit of flavor that comes from grilling over those amazing charcoals. In fact, the smell may stick with you even after you leave. Sara makes fun of me, but I can always smell the charcoal on my shirt after we leave and it makes me hungry again.
On our first night there, Sara was making fun of me because I kept staring at Toshi-san’s knives as he was preparing our food. Quite frankly, the man is a master of the Honesuki, which got me thinking… how cool would it be if we spent some time with him while he was preparing the food we were eating. After a number of time going there for dinner (and long after it had become one of our favorite places), we decided to ask Toshi-san if we could come spend an afternoon with him and watch him work. We wanted to ask questions about his food philosophy, background, knife usage… all kinds of things. He agreed, and so began our profile of Yakitoriya.
On a weekday afternoon, Sara and I headed over to Yakitoriya with a camera, a list of questions, and a pad of paper. Toshi-san invited us in and we headed back to the kitchen. He was preparing to break down some chicken for that evening’s dinner. It is worth mentioning that he only uses Jidori chicken… he explained to us that he’s tried a lot of different chicken and the one he uses has the best flavor, texture, and overall quality of all of the ones he’s found in the US (though he says chicken in France is amazing). I really agree with him. Jidori chicken is heads and shoulders better than other chickens many restaurants are using.
Now, I said before that Toshi-san is a master of the Honesuki… it’s really true. I’ve used a honesuki for a number of years, and with it I’ve broken down hundreds, if not thousands, of chicken. I am nowhere close to his level of skill. He did things I’ve never even seen before. It was awesome. He and Sara made fun of me because I sat there with my mouth wide open in awe. I’ve never seen chicken broken down more beautifully. Actually, since that day, I have been working on breaking down chickens in the same way.
Toshi-san demonstrated his preparation of chicken breasts, thighs, and a few others. Literally every part of the chicken is used. Here are some more pictures of Toshi-san at work:
However, none of this would be complete if we didn’t go back again and have dinner to try all of the food again. Sara and I headed over to Yakitoriya, yet again, for dinner (as much as I go, I really never get tired of it). In addition to some chicken breast, thighs, and vegetables, we had gizzard (Toshi-san’s favorite), ginkgo nuts, and of course Tori-Soboro (Sara’s favorite). As always, it was delicious. Here are some pictures of the food we ate:
No... really... i promise we ate lots of food
For desert, we wanted to try some of Toshi-san’s ice cream (made in-house). He has a bunch of interesting flavors including yuzu, milk tea, and black sesame. In the end, we decided on milk tea and black sesame. WOW!!! They were great. The texture was spot on and the flavor rich and vibrant. Honestly, I don’t know how I’ve been able to go there so many times and not order desert. At least now I know what I’m doing.
(we would have taken more pictures of the desert, but is disappeared quickly ;) )
Again, a huge thanks to Toshi-san for inviting us in to spend an afternoon with him and answering all of our crazy questions. Not only is the food very tasty, but he’s just a super nice guy. If you’re ever in the area, you’ve got to stop by Yakitoriya.
11301 West Olympic Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90064-1652
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