Hi!!! I hope everyone’s started their countdown to Christmas because the 15 days are sure to fly by. Shanghai’s isn’t really known for it’s Christmas spirit, but the decorations and music are already coming up. For students, the tail end of December means FINALS WEEK. Sure, exams are stressful, but it also means a 90% drop in actual schoolwork. Less schoolwork= more time= more eats!
As everybody probably knows, I’m a HUGE sucker for roast meat/fish. I’m also a diehard fan of Japanese cuisine. The Japanese beat me to the punch about 200 years ago and came up with Yakitori, those ubiquitous skewers offered at Japanese restaurants. Yakitori, or “grilled chicken” in Japanese, is traditionally cooked over a charcoal grill to impart a deliciously smoky and slightly charred flavour. Unfortunately, due to either laziness, fire safety laws or a combination of both, most restaurants outside of Japan resort to the fryer, leading to greasy skewers lacking depth. Then, I discovered Toriyasu.
Torikin is the type of small hole in the wall gem I cannot resist going to. It’s also known as Shanghai’s best yakitori joint. The trick is to find it. The original joint was at 2876 Yan’an West Rd, a true hole in the wall.
Unfortunately, we did not know this location closed a year ago and spent a good 30 minutes trying to find it. The newer location is at 890 Changning Rd on the second floor of Rose center, a slightly shady little plaza behind the Renaissance Hotel. The plaza also happens to be exit 3 for metro line 2 at the Zhongshan Park station. (That tip would have saved us at least 45minutes)
We did eventually get there; I was pretty hungry; Time to eat!
Torikin is famous for the Yakitori, so ordering should be simple, right? Well, not when the menu features three pages of options. The restaurant tries to help out with its “Top 10 Orders” list
but….. I don’t speak Japanese. I went by intuition- Here’s the highlights. Based on the top 10 list, I’d say I have pretty good intuition
Chicken Liver- Liver is probably one of the last things most people would order on a yakatori menu. Although I love liver, I would agree. Undercook the liver and it becomes a bloody, nausea inducing mess. Overcook by mere seconds and it develops a sickening powdery texture. However, at Torikin, liver is ranked number ,1 for good reason. The liver itself was incredibly fresh, which did wonders to minimize the offputting aftertaste often associated with liver. The smoke and expert seasoning further enhanced the natural, rich, irony flavor. Most importantly, the cook was impeccable. Note: give this a try, but remember, the smoke and spice enhance flavor, not remove it. If you don’t like the actual taste of liver, you won’t like this.
Crispy Chicken Skin- Liver can be controversial, but few would dispute the merits of perfectly crispy chicken skin. Thus it’s no surprise this dish ranked #3. Torikin managed to take an already great dish to another level. First, they accordian the skin to prevent it from drying out. This keeps it crispy without a grainy texture. They also manage to keep the skin thick without making the skewers oil slicks. AMAZING!
Salmon Cheek (salmon head on the menu)- This dish isn’t technically yakitori, but I can’t resist salmon head. It didn’t even realize it made top ten. When the dish arrived, I realized “salmon head” was a mistranslation. What we got was three thick, meaty pieces of salmon cheek. I could not have been more impressed. Besides being incredibly fresh, the fish had a perfect fat ratio. The cook turned out to be better than the meat. Not only was the skin perfectly crispy, the meat was JUICY, like a steak! The spices and smokiness also magnified the beautiful natural richness of the salmon. Even my dad, who hates fish, raved about this dish. ORDER THIS!!!!
Beef Tongue- This dish, like chicken skin, is another deceptively simple delicacy on the top 10. Although tongue provides a great, beefy flavour at nearly all cooks, Torikin managed to find a sweet spot between medium rare and medium that allowed just enough blood to cut the natural fattiness of the meat. I think it’s repetitive to mention the magic of smoke and seasoning at this point.
Chicken Cartilidge- Although this sounds strange, it’s actually one of the most popular yakitori items. By the time this dish arrived, my expectations were through the roof, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The key to great cartilidge is crunch and juice without greasiness. Check and Check. To elevate the flavor, add light seasoning and charcoal smoke. Check. To make it top ten, trim each piece to get the perfect balance. Yes, I watched the chef work each piece and literally crouch down to the table before skewering it. That’s the precision and dedication at this restaurant.
Tuna jaw- I saved the best for last. This dish isn’t on the top 10, but it deserves to be number 1 by my standards. Personally, I think the problem isn’t the taste, but the size. The thing is MASSIVE. There’s literally a good 6-8 oz of pure meat under that perfectly crispy, deliciously fatty skin. Speaking of the meat, it was jucier than the salmon.
Not pictured but thoroughly enjoyed- Shitake Mushroom, Grilled onion (think onions stink, think again), chicken neck, chicken wing
Note 1: Torikin is best known for its yakitori, but the owner, and the very oblidging veteran diners next to us, also highly recommend the shabu shabu and one of the various soba dishes. The appetizer plates are also highly recommended. This is important because yakitori takes forever to get the perfect cook, and nothing less than perfect cook comes off the line at Torikin
Note 2: Yakitori adds up fast! Those little skewers seem innocent enough, but before you know it, you end up with a bucket of used sticks and a massive stomachache. Unfortunately, unlike at most restaurants where you can avoid overeating by not ordering sub par dishes, an unordered dish at Torikin is a HUGE missed opportunity
Service and Atmosphere
I would say the service and atmosphere were the highlight, but the food was too good. Its vibe is a combination of a small post work hangout and an intimate family joint. The rush of the wait staff and excited conversations created a lively and friendly but not overwhelming atmosphere.
Tip: For parties of more than 2 people, make reservations. If you don’t speak Japanese, go on weekends
The service was also too good to be true. The staff was obliging and our waitress actually took the time to translate the “top 10 list” and gave me a few pronunciation tips. The store owner was also more than amazing. She conversed with patrons (in fluent Japanese) and spent time making sure everyone was happy. She must have felt bad that we had to wait for our yakitori because she not only rushed our orders but gave us free marshmallow skewers. Honestly, I’d go back just for the service
This is probably one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to. I’ll definitely find any excuse to go back. If any of you ever come to Shanghai, remember Hongqiao airport has a line 2 metro and Pudong Airport also makes connections.
Well, that’s it for this week. I hope everyone has a great week and until we meet again- Happy Holidays!