Delicious hand-held morsels on a skewer that just scream to be devoured. What is it about food on a stick that makes a good chunk of us stand to attention? For the many East Village visits on this particular New York trip I almost had to insist that we drop by this yakitori eating house after inhaling the sweet scent of grilled meat when walking past its open doors. Japanese yakitori. Why the hell don’t I eat more of this godly food?
The area around St Marks Place and 3rd Avenue, to me, is like a turd with a neon sign above it. There are many places in cities I’ve seen around the world that are of the same ilk. Tattoo parlours sitting by bong shops sitting by tourist souvenir shit sitting by undesirables. It’s appealing to some, it’s generally a deterrent to me. The thing is that in areas like this, as a visitor, you just don’t know what you’re going to stumble upon. Somehow there are great little eating joints to be discovered in that shitty mire. Great little eating joints like Yakitori Taisho.
The crusty set-up of this yakitori hotspot, and I mean hotspot, is one of its primary attractions. There are none of those designer fabrications and polished surfaces I’m used to seeing in Japanese establishments like this. Instead it’s beaten-up wooden tables and arse-numbing stools, poorly-sanded floorboards, smeared glass and tinfoil and a queue of 20-somethings at the door wanting a piece of the dishevelled action.
If this was Surry Hills in Sydney it’d be twice the price for any of these dishes. It’d close its doors at 11pm and the food authority would make sure every kitchen tile was gleaming. New York, you’ve got it good. A plate of skewered goodies starts us off with a jug, or pitcher if you must, of Sapporo ($12.5). Ok, maybe in Sydney the beer would come ice-cold but here the warm plastic pitcher gets warmer by the minute. On the plate it’s a flurry of skewers – ume sasimi (chicken with plum sauce $2.5), hotate bacon (scallop in a bacon blanket $2.75), bara (pork belly $1.5) and aspara bacon (bacon wrapped asparagus $2.75). Every one of them was perfectly charred, perfectly juicy and just, err, perfectly perfection. Even if I don’t remember eating the scallops. Must have been the warm beer.
A little more perfection, for those that like this kind of thing, came in the form of yaki unagi roll. A sushi roll of grilled eel and avocado, then grilled again over coals to get that glorious flavour going, sliced and squelched with creamy Japanese mayo. Why spend a fortune on a gastro journey when you can pay $8.50 for charred ecstasy? Ok, exaggerating a little here. The next dish was yaki sake onigiri ($3.25). I know it somehow had potential but the grilled rice ball filled with dry salmon just didn’t thrill either of us. What did thrill us was the last plate of charred pork spare ribs ($8.5), falling off the bone in delightfully greased porcine goodness.
There was plenty room for dessert but sadly what we wanted wasn’t available. Mr Taisho, next time we’re in town please make sure you’ve prepped the matcha brûlée. I really want to try it.
Yakitori Taisho NYC – 5 St Marks Place, East Village