Sunday, August 19, 2007

Yakyu and Yakitori

Oh! Taisho
9 St. Marks Place (between 2nd and 3rd)
New York, NY

Baseball and Japan seem to be the themes of this trip. So, naturally, after watching the Yankees skewer Detroit at Yankee Stadium, we opted for more skewers, this time with grilled meat on them: yakitori. At Jayan's suggestion, we headed to yakitori joint Oh! Taisho in New York's Harajuku-lite - St. Mark's Place, dotted with several great late-night Japanese eateries and more hip young Asian kids than you can shake a chocolate-covered Pocky at.

We sat and were presented with a huge menu of options, all of which sounded totally appetizing - even the motsu ("beef guts") and yotsumi ("chicken chunck.") Ultimately, the prospect of so many things wrapped in bacon drove us a little crazy, and we ended up with a giant platter of skewers, along with some shrimp gyoza and salmon ochazuke. Ochazuke is rice served in a bowl of tea, usually with some other ingredient; this one was refreshing and light and served as a great palate teaser for the grilled goodness to come. The shrimp gyoza were serviceable, but nothing really to write home about. But the yakitori! Tired of the succulent, fat-basted enoki mushrooms enveloped in a cozy ring of bacon? How about some succulent, fat-basted asparagus enveloped in a cozy ring of . . . bacon? It turns out, as we really had long suspected but never definitively proved, that everything tastes better when wrapped in bacon. Even seafood - we went for the bacon-wrapped scallops as well (too late to try to keep kosher anyway). We did tentatively venture outside our bacon zone of comfort, dipping into some tasty kimo, or chicken livers (like buttah), and the aforementioned chicken chunck. Keeping in mind the FDA food pyramid, we even had some vegetables: grilled negi, or scallions, were the perfect counterpoint to all the meat.

In the end, we were let down by our own stomachs, which, having ingested several Nathan's hot dogs at the game a few hours earlier, finally cried uncle at the umpteenth skewer. But there were so many great options left to try, like the ika yaki (whole grilled cuttlefish), the ume sasami and sasami mentai (chicken w/ plum paste and chicken with spicy cod roe), that we're just going to have to go back - preferably after watching Hideki Matsui clobber another postseason contender. Turns out baseball (yakyu) and yakitori go perfectly together . . . something the Japanese have long figured out.