If I could sum up Yakitoriya with an image, it would be the wiry chef hovering over the grill behind the counter, rotating skewers with the concentration of a Zen master and drizzling them with occasional pinches of salt.
The Japanese have elevated yakitori (morsels of chicken grilled on skewers) to an art, and the aroma from down the block told me I was in for something fine at this West Los Angeles restaurant.
The staff of earnest young men with occasional English problems shouted a spirited ‘Irasshaimase!’ (welcome) as my friend and I entered, and in the intimate, busy room I felt almost transported to Japan, surrounded by dark wood, mustard-colored walls, faux ceiling beams, a counter and perhaps a dozen tables.
We split one 10-skewer course, which I nicknamed “All Things Chicken,” from breast and thigh meat to chicken meatballs, wings, liver, gizzard and skin, plus hard-boiled quail eggs and a couple skewers of sliced vegetables wrapped in thin strips of chicken. There’s also a five-skewer set; both are designed for one person.
Courses come with a nice but uneventful salad and a cup of soothing chicken soup (what else?). If you’re not up for, say, gizzard (soft on the outside, almost crunchy on the inside), you’re allowed two substitutions. We particularly enjoyed the thigh meat and juicy meatballs.
The master chooses how your chicken is seasoned. Some selections are dipped in a teriyaki sauce, others are sprinkled with salt and some are dabbed with wasabi.
Venturing down the menu, soboro was a deep bowl of rice topped with ground chicken. The sweetness of the chicken was nicely tempered by the addition of a seven-spice mixture called shichimi.
My friend said that zosui, a porridge of rice, egg, chicken and diced string beans, shiitake mushrooms and carrots, was worth the whole trip. The dish is subtle on its own, but it comes with a soy-ponzu sauce and thin strips of nori seaweed that you sprinkle on to make it really complete.
Yakitoriya also has a selective list of sakes, including some not commonly available around town. The waiter poured mine from an enormous chilled bottle into what looked like a teacup, and he kept pouring until it spilled over, filling the saucer beneath it. I had to lower my head to drink the first couple of sips. Or was it in reverence?