Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Very Cold Ladies Night, Meat on a Stick, and Hot Chocolates


Devotion to food is leaving your warm apartment to trek through 15 degree F (plus wind chill) cold and transfer 3 different trains to eat chicken hearts on a stick.


Yakitori Totto
251 W 55th St, 2nd Fl
(between Broadway & 8th Ave)
New York, NY 10019
(212) 245-4555
tottonyc.com

"You know, I don't think that they have enough meats on sticks. No, seriously, if you think about it, they have plenty of sweets, right? They have lollipops, they have fudgesicles, they have popsicles, but they don't have any other meats on sticks." - There's Something About Mary

Au contraire, Mary! There are lots of meats on sticks!  Yakitori is Japanese grilled skewered chicken meat and offal.  It can also be broadened to include other meats and vegetables.  The entire experience is reminiscent of Spanish tapas, in that you order lots of different things, and can easily share and try everything.  For this particular occasion, I was meeting Christine from Fresh Local and Best, Andrea from High/Low Food/Drink, and Cindy from Chubby Chinese Girl for dinner.  The rather small second floor eatery is apparently a favorite of Thomas Keller's, Eric Ripert's, and Anthony Bourdain's, among others.  If that's not endorsement to you, then just stop reading now.

There's a rooster on the sign!  It's like they're saying, "We like Sriracha! Come inside!" although I'm fairly certain there was no actual Sriracha in anything I ate... :)  Maybe it's referring to all the chicken on the menu...

So the menu here can be a bit daunting if you aren't used to eating chicken offal, or offal in general.  Offal, plainly put, means guts.  I usually steer away from eating guts, but I make some exceptions.  Foie Gras and chicken liver products are examples of offal I'm cool with.  On this day, I explored the unknown, the unfamiliar.  I had chicken tail, gizzard, and heart, among other things.  Here is a run down of our selections, and a few thoughts on each.  PS the prices are per skewer.

Skin $3 each

A favorite of many when it's still attached to the bird.  Why should it be any less good skewered and grilled?  It had a nice bit of char flavor, crispy edges, and softer interior between the folds.  I liked this, but would have loved it even more if all of the skin was super crispy :)  I would still order it next time, and PS you feel less guilty if you share!

Soft Knee Bone $3 each

Okay, I went into this one pretty sure I wasn't going to like it.  I was told that it would be a strange texture, and that I would have to chew it for a while before I could swallow the whole thing.  Let's just say, I chewed one piece briefly before I decided spitting it out (into a napkin, of course) would be my best option.  Not a fan of soft knee bone.  Moving on...

Kyona Salad - Arugula with Cream Cheese Crumbles, Deep-Fried Baby Sardines, and Poached Egg $10

This salad was good, very unusual, but good.  It had a slight fishiness from the teeny tiny fried baby sardines, and a bit of tanginess from the cream cheese.  The poached egg was part of the dressing, making this a truly unique salad, unlike any I've had before.  I had seconds.

Gizzard $3 each

This was my first encounter with gizzard as well.  I was okay with it, thought the texture erred a bit on the chewy side along one edge, but enjoyed the spicy and somewhat crisp texture of the par-grilled onion skewered alongside it.  It was a nice touch, and made me feel a bit less weird about eating grilled gizzard.  Would I order this again on my own.  Probably not.

Berkshire Pork Belly with Scallions and Ponzu $3.50 each

These were also skewered with onion, a nice contrast of texture and flavor to the pork belly.  The pork belly itself was not melt-in-your-mouth tender, but it was also grilled, and not braised.  I accept that the texture would be a mixture of tender and slightly chewy along the fatty edge.  I liked it overall though, enjoyed the grilled flavor in the meat, and thought the scallions and ponzu were a good accompaniment.  The pork belly is also offered with lemon and mustard as an alternative.

Heart $3 each

Would you believe that the heart was one of my favorites? Well you should because it's true.  I was a bit hesitant going into this one as well, but to be honest, I really loved the flavor of the heart, the texture wasn't weird, it was super meaty, the grilled flavor was great, and it was juicy.  I should also note that all of the chicken skewers are simply seasoned with Okanawa sea salt, and that's really all they need.  It's so simple, but it brings out the flavors of the meat and offal without covering them up.  Too much salt is bad, but just enough makes everything taste as it should :) I <3 heart (soooo cheesy, lol)

Tori Dango - Steamed Rice Dumplings Stuffed with Chicken Meatballs (takes 15 minutes to prepare) $10

These dumplings were another hit!  The chicken meatballs inside were juicy and delicious, and the sticky rice on the exterior was a fun flavor and texture addition.  I've never had dumplings coated with rice instead of wrapped in dough, but I would definitely order these again!  If you are afraid of offal, these are a great option!

Tail $3

Yup, I had some tail ;-) No, not like that.  I tried some chicken tail.  To be honest, I nibbled around the edges mostly.  I enjoyed the slightly salted charred flavor of the edges, but the texture was a tad off-putting.  Not in any way like the soft knee bone, but it's not the kind of tail I'd be looking forward to in the future :) lol

Japanese Style Fried Chicken $8

This was also a popular choice.  I mean, it's fried chicken.  What's not to like?  This one is doused in a slightly sweet and tangy sauce and topped with sesame seeds (so it's not really crunchy anymore, but the flavors are great).  This is also a safe bet if you're unsure of some of the less obvious options.  We all went to town on these drumsticks :)

Chicken Meatball $3.50

It looks nothing like a meatball.  It looks more like a kebab, but I guess if you squished a raw meatball onto a skewer it would be a kebab, right?  This baby was soooooo juicy and flavorful, I wanted it all for myself.  It was better than any chicken meatball or chicken kebab I've ever had in my whole life.  It was juicier than I thought ground chicken had any right to be!  It was perfectly seasoned, and elicited oohs and ahhs from everyone at the table (Note: that's just a figure of speech, no one actually oohed and ahhed, but we all agreed these were damn good).

Thighs $3

Honestly, I'm a white meat person, but I'm gonna say, these thighs were really good!  They were so juicy and tender!  Perfectly (simply) seasoned, and even the fat had a good texture.  I often find chicken fat to be chewy if it isn't super crisp, but this fat was just fine by me :)

Zucchini Tempura - Deep Fried Zucchini with Rice Cracker and Smoked Salt $7

These are stunning!  I've never had tempura like this before!  Each thickly cut piece of zucchini was crusted with rice cracker bits.  It offered a nice flavor and a completely unique texture to each piece.  This plate was also served with some smoked salt for you to dip or top your zucchini tempura with.  It was delicious and a wonderful touch.  The umbrella was such a fun adornment!  It almost looked like the tempura was sunbathing :) Maybe that was the point!

Avocado and Tuna Salad with Tobiko (Flying Fish Roe) $10

I loved this salad!  I could have single-handedly eaten a vat of it.  It was a great balance of textures, with the soft, buttery avocado, the fresh, raw tuna chunks, and the tiny little fish eggs popping in your mouth in between bites, offering a glimpse of briny flavor amidst this perfectly dressed salad.  So fresh!  Tuna and avocado are a marriage made in Heaven, and this salad is one of my favorite examples of this delicious duo.

Knave
Le Parker Meridien
118 W 57th St
(between 6th Ave & 7th Ave)
New York, NY 10019
(212) 708-7392

After dinner, we needed a warm place to sneak (they yelled at us at Yakitori Totto) some cookies Andrea had brought with her from a Christmas cookie swap.  We headed to Le Parker Meridien hotel, and settled onto one of the sofas within Knave, the lounge/bar within.  In what looks like an old, gilded hallway with very high ceilings, red drapes and chandeliers set a very luxurious, slightly gothic, and even regal type of atmosphere. We ordered white and regular hot chocolates, and a chamomile tea.  The tea was served with an ornate strainer and strainer-holder for the tea leaves, while the hot chocolates were served with the melted chocolate in the bottom of the tea cup, and a small pitcher of steamed milk to stir together ourselves.  Each of our cozy drinks came with a crescent-shaped mildly anise-flavored cookie with a firm, but slightly chewy texture.  We partook in some extra cookies courtesy of Andrea, and sipped warmth into our nearly frozen bodies.  I think we all enjoyed this ending to our evening together, and I will keep Knave in mind for the next time I'm in the area and need to sit down, kick back, and enjoy a little classy hot chocolate :)

Hot Chocolate and White Hot Chocolate $6 each, Chamomile Tea $5

DIY Hot Chocolate



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