clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

In a Rare Appearance, the Chef of Japan’s Top Yakitori Restaurant Will Cook in NYC

Chef Yoshiteru Ikegawa will leave his post at one Michelin-starred yakitori bar Torishiki to cook at his Noho restaurant, Torien

Tokyo’s legendary chef Yoshiteru Ikegawa
Courtesy of Shōwa Hospitality

In a rare appearance, Tokyo’s legendary chef Yoshiteru Ikegawa — owner of impossible-to-book, one Michelin-starred yakitori bar Torishiki — is set to cook outside of Japan. It’s Ikegawa-san’s second time cooking in New York since he opened Torien, the upscale grilled chicken omakase concept he launched in Noho right before the pandemic hit with Mexico City-based partner Edo Lopez of Shōwa Hospitality.

Ikegawa-san will personally tame the flames of his minimalist-designed, 17-seat counter-style restaurant from May 26 through June 10 — the longest period of time the chef has ever been away from Torishiki (he only cooked for a handful of days for Torien’s opening). There will be nightly seatings offered at 5:30 and 9 p.m. for the 13-course, chef’s choice seasonal skewer menu ($150). The dishes at Torien haven’t changed much since debuting last year, Ikegawa-san says, although there is now one extra skewer offered to guests. For those who haven’t dined at Torishiki, the chicken-themed omakase in New York is “not much different” from the menu offered in Japan.

Before Torien’s opening last year, Ikegawa-san came to New York briefly to get the spot up and running, and then Yoshiteru Maekawa, an apprentice from Torishiki, took over. Since then, Atsushi Ganaha — former chef de cuisine of Kips Bay’s shuttered sushi bar O Ya — has stepped in to run the place in Ikegawa-san’s absence.

Diners can expect skewers like chicken artery and chicken skin, interspersed with small palate-cleansing dishes like ume gazpacho and daikon radish. As before, Ikegawa-san sources flavor-rich Amish birds from Pennsylvania and New York to build his prized menu of chicken skewers. But the magic behind Ikegawa-san’s cooking doesn’t only fall on his prime ingredient.

According to prolific Tokyo-based diner John Hirai, one of the top reviewers on Japan’s highly respected restaurant rating site, Tabelog, “The secret to [Ikegawa-san’s] yakitori is not just the quality of the chicken,” which he sources from Fukushima Prefecture. But, it’s “how he lines up the binchotan charcoal” with no spaces between blocks to create maximum fire, he explains to Eater. He also grills the skewers as close to the embers as possible without actually touching them, which keeps the chicken’s juices intact, while crisping the outside meat. And for those who have met Ikegawa-san before, the chef’s devotion to his craft is evident with a glance of his nails, which have partly melted down and is proof of how hot his grill becomes, and how close he holds his fingers to the glowing coals.

Pieces of chicken are held up by chopsticks and grilled over an open flame with charcoal.
Chicken skewers are carefully cooked on binchotan charcoal
Liz Clayman/Torien [Official]

Torishiki is the type of restaurant that often lands on must-dine bucket lists, especially for people interested in Japanese cuisine. The modest place, which also counts 17 counter-only seats, debuted in 2007 in Tokyo’s Shinagawa neighborhood, and since then has gone on to become the number one rated yakitori spot in not just all of Tokyo, but in all of Japan, according to Tabelog.

And although the Torishiki team technically claims to accept reservations by phone one month out on the first day of the month, the truth is that those calls generally go unanswered. The much sought-after seats at Torishiki falls under the introduction-only category of restaurant that’s quite common in Japan, which means that in order to get in, guests have to receive a referral from a regular diner — which only adds to the difficulty of nabbing a reservation and the allure of the restaurant. “I really want New York people to enjoy Japanese yakitori,” Ikegawa-san says.