Written by: Ben Phelps
Tsukune at Yakitori Totto
“Um… Sookoon?” the vet tech said straining his eyes at the chart. “Sookoon Phelps.” Caroline and I looked at each other a bit sheepishly in the waiting room, each silently wondering if we shouldn’t have named our cat something like Cheeseburger or Shadowmaster – at least something easier to pronounce. We raised our hands and took our nervous kitty in for some vaccinations.
Tsukune (t’soo-kuu-nay) means literally kneaded by hand – but most often times the word is used to describe a grilled chicken meatball commonly served at yakitori joints and izakayas. Does our cat taste like chicken? I don’t know… awkward. But, with his color scheme, he sure looks grilled chicken meatball-ish – and when he’s happy he kneads the hell out of a blanket.
The tsukune skewers at Yakitori Totto come with either a simple salt coating or with a more complex, sweet soy, sugar and mirin based brown sauce known as ‘yakitori tare’. I always rock the sauce. The texture to the always perfectly cooked skewers has elements of the best BBQ with slightly charred bits on the outside, and a somewhat soft, luxurious and moist interior. But my favorite element of eating tsukune is the simplest part of the equation: the dunk into the sauce-on-the-side. You dip the meat into a ramekin that contains a raw egg. While this dipping sauce just sounds like a simple, cheeky play on the whole ‘which-came-first… chicken or egg’ paradox, it turns out to be the most perfect of combinations. The savory, dulcet and caramelized meat is tamed and cooled by the creamy egg wash. There is also a mini-version of tsukune served in split open shishito peppers. Um… yes, please.
Yakitori Totto is the sister restaurant to Soba Totto (who make the eerily good sanshoku don). It is my go to spot when I feel like getting my swerve on with some dark and livery firefly squid, sake shiokara (fermented salmon) and a few yakitori skewers of nankotsu (soft bone). But just so you don’t think it’s a place that only serves up adventurous dishes, they also serve classics like bacon wrapped asparagus yakitori and seaweed clad rice balls.
I’m easy to excite when it comes to food – so most trips to Yakitori Totto have me on the verge of stroking out. The tsukune is the tasty trigger.
Yakitori Totto is located at 251 West 55th Street in New York City