The Great Noodle Tour: Yakitori Fest at Birdland

Yakitori is one of Japan’s finest cuisines. It consists of skewered chicken and vegetables, often grilled over charcoal underneath the elevated subway tracks.

Of course, this being Japan, you can go high scale as easily as you can go low scale.

And when a place offers opentable reservations, a Michelin star, and 2 very reasonably priced tasting menus – why not take the high road?

20150422_054633 Birdland is one of Tokyo’s premiere yakitori restaurants and it’s all centered around a large grilling pit. The action is really there at the counter, but if you have a large group like we did, you will be seated at one of two large picnic tables, slightly removed from the action.  20150422_054651 The room is filled with smoke and for once it isn’t the cigarette smoke that pervades the city. It is chicken and it smells GOOD. You can order a la carte but we went with the large tasting menu. And it was really, really large. I would actually recommend going with the smaller tasting menu and adding the cheese (the cheese is that good…really). 20150422_055511 Amuse bouche

From the top left, clockwise:

Gizzard – a little chewy but rich and pleasantly minerally in flavor

Seaweed salad – um, no

Other vegetables – another um, no

Chicken skin – a little rubbery – not my fave.

20150422_060258 Medium rare chicken breast

Juicy, light, sprinkled with green onions. Not at all slimy or raw, just rare enough to be juicy. Seasoned with pepper and enough salt to be mouth-watering. That’s right, I just called grilled chicken breast mouth-watering.  20150422_060755 Chicken liver pate

One of my favorite courses of the meal. Rich and coarse with buttery undertones. It’s intensely minerally but seasoned enough not to be off-putting – it reminds me a lot of the liver at Sammy’s.
20150422_061517 Chicken breast with wasabi

Not medium rare, but still juicy and sweet next to the tiny dabs of searing fresh wasabi paste.  20150422_062030 Chicken liver skewer

The favorite of many at the table. Juicy, tender, and almost creamy in texture. Mild in taste and liberally sprinkled with coarse sea salt. Fabulous.  20150422_062435 Chicken with scallions

Plain but delicious. The chicken is so fresh that it’s almost impossibly tender and more sweet than barnyard-y.  20150422_062914 Tofu with micro tomato.

I mean…a micro tomato. Do you see how tiny and adorable that is? This doesn’t taste different from a regular tomato, but it is SO much cuter. The tofu was a little bland for me but my husband loved it.  20150422_063219 Gingko nuts

Nutty and a little creamy, with a texture similar to chestnuts. I loved this as a mid-way chicken break.  20150422_063420 Teriyaki chicken thigh

They didn’t all it terikayi, but that’s what it was. This meat is almost gamy in its darkness. Its juicy and rich – much more wild tasting than the breast meat. 20150422_064506 Tsukune

These Japanese meatballs are a perfect bite. A crispy, thin crust outside a tender, juicy, well spiced and salted meatball. Delicious.  20150422_064942 Dark meat with crispy skin

One of the only pieces of the night that I didn’t enjoy. Just too gamy and rare for my tastes.  20150422_070632 Grilled mushrooms

YES! Mushrooms are such a natural complement to meat. They are meaty themselves but not rich and don’t compete with the chicken at all. They are smoky from the grilled and sprinkled with soy. When doused with lime there is a certain light, bright aspect to them that mushrooms rarely seem to have.  20150422_071406 Chicken thigh with spring onion

Mmmmmm! Love it! 20150422_072154 Grilled cheese

The extra course you have to order no matter what. Stretchier ad creamier than halloumi but with a similar salty taste.

20150422_073257 Oyako don

Just the most perfect dish ever. Creamy egg, sticky rice, juicy chicken. A few strands of savory green onion. I absolutely lapped this up.

20150422_074321 Creme caramel

A good dessert, but not memorable.

Absolutely every other thing was, though. The service is excellent, with a staff fully versed in English and a menu that has something for even the pickiest of eaters. It isn’t cheap but it isn’t super pricey either and if you don’t get that cheese and oyako don, you are crazy.

Japan – it’s not all raw fish after all.