Grilled chicken is not what you’d expect to be the star of a multicourse tasting menu. But at Teisui, every step of preparing the bird—from choosing the breed and the cuts of meat, to grilling it properly, to determining what seasoning it needs—is refined and perfected until it is transformed into an exceptional, utterly delicious dish.
At Teisui, which recently opened a couple of blocks north of Madison Square Park, the craft of grilling chicken, or yakitori, is showcased through a 10-course kaiseki, a multicourse meal traditionally served to royalty, that is at times embellished with a French flair ($150).
The restaurant bears the same name as its sister hotel, in Akita Prefecture, Japan. The hotel was originally a ryokan, or traditional inn, that once hosted the emperor, and to this day still holds onto the tradition of serving kaiseki.
Yakitori is usually considered street food by the Japanese, a convenient meal to order after work at a mom-and-pop shop, according to Teisui’s General Manager Yuko Hagiwara. But in recent years, chefs have started to offer yakitori using expensive breeds of chicken, and pairing them with truffles and foie gras, elevating the humble bird to the realm of fine dining. Hagiwara said Teisui is the first to design a kaiseki menu around yakitori at a New York restaurant, with several non-chicken dishes, like Alaskan king crab and duck breast in red wine, that complement the grilled chicken.
Chef Yuichiro Yoshimura, who worked at the original Teisui Hotel in Akita Province, Japan, is a yakitori expert who has honed his grilling skills for the past two years. He said getting the right char—often just a hint—comes from experience, through carefully observing and gauging the temperature of the meat without tasting or touching it.
The type of grill, too, is critical. In Japan, yakitori joints typically use a charcoal grill. A gas grill will only heat up the exterior, while charcoal radiates heat more evenly and allows the juices to stay inside, Yoshimura explained. In New York, strict regulation codes make the use of charcoal grills in restaurants very prohibitive. Teisui instead uses a special ceramic that mimics the heat charcoal gives off.
The result is perfectly succulent meat, but without the usual grease or intense smokiness associated with grilled meat. The Tori-Mune Konsai, or chicken breast skewer, is sweet, with the natural essence of the chicken. But to stimulate the palate, the dish also comes with slices of sweet beets, smoked salt from the Sea of Japan, and beet and arugula purées, the latter with a spicy edge.
Teisui’s black feather chicken is sourced from Bo Bo Poultry in Brooklyn. Hagiwara explained that the Japanese are very particular about the types of chicken used in dishes, selecting birds for their texture (firmer meat is better for yakitori). Chickens are raised according to strict rules regarding their diet and the amount of space they have to grow, and the best yakitori restaurants in Japan have their own farms or seek out farms that match their specifications. After many taste tests, Bo Bo chickens were chosen because they tasted the most like Japanese chicken.
The final component to great yakitori is the “tare” sauce used to glaze the meats. Hagiwara said the sauce is usually what distinguishes different yakitori shops from each other, and hesitated to give more details about the recipe. But the sauce is usually a mix of soy sauce, sugar, and aromatics, lending a delightful savory-sweetness. Teisui’s Tsukune, or chicken meatballs, are painted with just a sheen of sauce.
Each bite of the tsukune is a soft, tender mix of minced chicken (the chef blended three different cuts of the bird to give extra flavor), onions, and Tokyo scallions (which impart a milder flavor than typical scallions). In Japan, the meatballs usually come with a raw egg that you whisk with your chopsticks, then dip the meatballs into, for an extra creamy texture. Sensing that some American diners might be squeamish about eating raw eggs, the chefs at Teisui serve the tsukune with a slightly cooked egg yolk.
Apart from chicken, Teisui’s menu includes seafood and other meats, presented in a progression of dishes modeled after the traditional kaiseki. The meal starts with an appetizer similar to the French amuse bouche, then moves on to the “hassun,” or second course, a platter of complementary foods that highlights the seasonality of the ingredients. Teisui begins its kaiseki with a warm and smooth chawanmushi (egg custard), brimming with umami from added uni and foie gras. A dollop of fresh edamame purée cuts through the saltiness.
In Teisui’s hassun, the elements all have a sweet-savory interplay. The Kiritanpo is a specialty from Akita, where the original Teisui Hotel is located. Mashed rice is toasted over an open fire, then glazed with sweet miso (at Teisui, a mix of miso and yakitori sauce is used instead). Served on a skewer, the rice is chewy and sticks to your teeth, like mochi, but the toasted bits are like the prized grains at the bottom of a rice pot, crunchy and slightly charred.
Also on the plate is a bite of sweet Alaskan king crabmeat, kissed with a tinge of char; a morsel of boiled chicken, pristine and clean-tasting; a soft ring of burdock root, just slightly bitter; and watercress dressed in “goma-ae,” a lightly sweet sesame dressing.
As the meal progresses, more substantial dishes are presented. The Kamo Mushi-Yaki is a French-style dish of duck breast in red wine sauce, alongside seasonal vegetables plated with droplets of yuzu and orange jelly. The duck is toothsome yet tender, and topped with rings of zesty orange peel. The French influence comes from chef Nobutaka Watanabe, who was trained in Western cuisine and was most recently the head chef at Hapa Izakaya in Vancouver, Canada. He presides over the preparation of the non-yakitori dishes on the menu.
Kaiseki typically ends with a miso soup to warm the stomach. Teisui serves a specialty dish called “ishiyaki” (which translates to grilling hot stones) from the Oga Peninsula where the hotel is located. A pot of miso soup is brought to a boil with the addition of heated stones. At Teisui in Japan, the chefs use stones from the surrounding waters. For the New York location, they opted for stones from Mount Fuji. Red snapper from Kyushu, Alaskan king crab, and Tokyo scallions are cooked right in the soup, all made delicate and sweet from the gentle heat of the stones, which makes the soup sizzle and bubble before your eyes.
Higawara swears that there’s something in the water in Akita that makes everything taste special. Short of a trip to northern Japan, though, Teisui on Fifth Avenue is the closest you’ll get to tasting that unique touch.
246 Fifth Ave. (entrance on 28th Street)
5:30 p.m.–9:30 p.m.
Friday & Saturday
5:30 p.m.–10:30 p.m.
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