Toriyoshi – Tokyo, JP
Sekaidou Building B1 Fl.
2-10-10 Dougenzaka, Shibuya-ku
+81 3 5784 3373
If you were to literally translate TORIYOSHI, it would end up being something like “good bird”. I suppose with poultry heavily entrenched in their menu, this is quite fitting and completely appropriate. As after you’ve had a taste of their famous TEBASAKI KARAGE (deep fried chicken wings), you’ll be saying good things about the bird served at this place too!
Despite it being a “chain” restaurant, I still find the quality and dining experience here to be a delight each and every time. Owned and operated by the Samukawa Food Planning group since 1984, TORIYOSHI has expanded in the 25 years that have passed and now encompasses forty branches spread across mainly the city of Tokyo, but also in other major centers such as Osaka and Yokohama.
My multiple visits have always centered around one of the outlets in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, the second branch in this part of town. Its located along the uphill sloping DOUGENZAKA street, and can be found hidden from the sidewalk as it is on a basement level floor of a building.
I suppose that lack of visibility from the street is part of the appeal, as once you climb down the stairs and pull open the heavy door, you enter this secluded cavern, dimly lit for the most part, with several sections of seating including the large counter in front of the glass enclosed grilling station (photo credit: TORIYOSHI) pictured above, as well as smaller two-person tables along one wall, and larger tatami rooms with larger tables. With its clean, upscale image, its a popular destination for dates (none of that smoky haze from less kept YAKITORI-YA), as well as groups of people who are looking for a bit more refinement in their skewered chicken hangout.
Now wings & beer from a North American point of view is nothing strange or unusual. Strange how the combination translates well in Japanese as well. But my college memories of gleefully getting excited over ten cent wing night at the local campus pub and pounding back pints of local brew (usually whatever was on tap and cheap, eg. Molson Canadian) with my mates, were turned upside down after having the same in Japan. Incidentally, my favorite brand of Japanese beer is Kirin (pictured above).
First of all, the wings at TORIYOSHI are complete (e.g. the less meaty tips are not cut off) thus making them “longer” in appearance unlike what you generally get with your mainstream Buffalo wings or hot wings found on Canadian pub menus. Also, the use of drummettes is rare.
With their secret recipe marinade, TORIYOSHI’s wings are an amazingly flavorful mix of sweet and spicy (three levels of flavour can be selected: sweet, medium, and hot). Riding that delicate balance is made possible by their sauce that apparently is left to concentrate for over a month before being used. The crispy exterior coating is very light, without any excess cake-y batter, making the juiciness of the meat after taking a bite come through even easier. Sprinkled with some sesame seeds and served on a meshed rack to prevent the bottom sides from becoming soggy, I can easily order and eat a dozen of these. They are that addictive.
In an interesting twist, TORIYOSHI has on its menu a sushi item. Yes, dressed in a slightly sweet sauce, slices of chicken are formed into nigiri and topped with some chopped scallions. It somewhat reminded me of UNAGI sushi, with its meatier texture and sweet properties. As Foodosophy readers can attest, I am a real traditionalist when it comes to sushi. For me sushi equals NIGIRI. And with EDOMAE-style toppings only. It came as great surprise then that I actually enjoyed this offering. I probably wouldn’t have it often and was probably impressed most with the quality of the grilled but still tender chicken meat, so I could accept it as sushi.
I wonder why someone hasn’t really hit a home run with this in North American sushi bars, given the tremendous popularity of chicken TERIYAKI. Ah, I suppose MAGURO (tuna), SHAKE (salmon) and California Rolls will continue to dominate North American sushi consumption patterns. Oh well…
As a way to cleanse my pallette after a hearty serving of TEBASAKI, I recommend the ANNIN TOFU (or almond tofu pudding). I believe they have something remotely similar to this at the HAPA IZAKAYA chain in Vancouver. With a delicate milky and creamy texture, and not overly sweet, its a nice way to round out the spice that is left on your tongue after having a healthy dose of chicken wings.
As mentioned, TORIYOSHI is a succesfully run, multi-outlet run business. But rather than degrade itself and become something for the masses and offer cheaper alternatives, it has maintained a sense of quality to their full menu, which includes other items featuring various parts of chicken such as miso grilled thigh meat, chicken NANBAN (which is spicy & sour) and of course assorted KUSHIYAKI (skewered grilled chicken). They are also quite famous for the handmade soft tofu, served very rustically.
Good bird (chicken), a welcome meal… any time.