Review: Torien Is the Rare NY Restaurant That Gives You Time to Actually Enjoy Your Meal
Manhattan has a new yakitori capital and it's worth every penny
There’s this place in New York City that I won’t name because the truth is I really enjoy it. It’s open late in a part of town that doesn’t have a lot of options past 10, the cocktails are good and the food does the trick. It’s a bit of a hot seat to grab when you can get one, so, naturally, the service works at a certain pace. This is a very New York thing: turnover. The name of the game is getting you in and out as fast as possible so they can get another table seated. There’s a system to the place you’re eating in, and if you mess up the system in any way, you’ll no doubt notice your server walking by your table every few minutes and doing something to let you know they want you out.
There are lots of weird little passive-aggressive ways restaurants keep this system going. One of the ones that gets me is when a place will tell you that you have to put in your complete order, like the restaurant in the paragraph above. Without giving too much away, the place I am talking about doesn’t serve big dishes that take a long time to prepare; it’s little dishes, stuff to eat at a leisurely pace. Again, the place I won’t name is delicious, but when the server told us we should put our entire order in at once, I looked at them and said, “But what I put in might not actually be enough. I want to make sure I’m full when I leave.” That should make sense, right?
However, this is no manifesto about the things that annoy me when dining in New York City. This is, instead, an appreciation. A love letter to a place that embraces a slow pace. A restaurant that is new to the States, but a favorite in Japan. An experience that I think just about every food lover should have if they’re dining in New York City: I’m talking about Torien.
Yoshiteru Ikegawa is a legend in his home country. Last year, in hopes of scoring a seat at his one Michelin-starred restaurant Torishiki in Tokyo, I went to nearly every kind of religious institution I could and prayed with all my might, but the Almighty saw through my ruse. I was not rewarded.
Or was I?
Ikegawa’s Noho spot might not be in Tokyo, but it made its debut last month in a city that is as obsessed with food as just about any other on the planet. At $150 for a 13-course meal, it comes with the promise of something worth talking about. New Yorkers love to discuss price when talking about meals. It’s so expensive, one person might say. But is it worth it, the other person will ask. Usually the answer is no, but the truth is, I’d pay that sort of money for the tranquility of knowing that I won’t be rushed while trying to enjoy my food. That’s crazy, right?
I’d say yes, but every moment I spent planted in my seat, watching Manhattan’s new masters of yakitori do their thing, was pretty much bliss. From the umeboshi sour cocktail I started off with to the opening salvo — a chicken thigh with just the slightest hint of char — I knew the next two hours would end up being everything I could want and then a little extra.
Poultry is the name of the game at Torien. When you travel through Japan, it doesn’t take long to learn that they understand how to put a piece of chicken on a skewer. You’d think it’s so easy to do, but then you watch the care and dedication, the quick flick of a fan to get just the right amount of smoke into the air, the delicate salting that makes it look like every speck has a planned destination, and you start to understand what makes yakitori so beautiful.
And while the hearts were plump and the skin had just the right amount of give, it was the shiitake — floral, smokey and downright beefy — that was the standout of the entire meal. I’ve been talking about it ever since. I keep telling people that it’s worth the money for the mushroom alone, and that powerful little fungi made the duck breast at the end seem even more out of place. Every bite of chicken was outstanding, but I’m still thinking about that shiitake.
Will Torien change the way New Yorkers eat out? Highly doubtful. We crave a sort of chaos and fast pace. Instead, this Japanese transplant can serve as a Fortress of Solitude. When we need a recharge, when we need a little time to ourselves to enjoy a meal in a quiet, contemplative setting, there’s this new, very welcomed addition to the Manhattan food map that is already becoming one of the hottest seats in town.
Nota bene: Torien’s March seatings are now available on Resy. They tend to book fast, so don’t dally.