Editor's note: Izakayas are down-to-earth drinking joints in Japan that also serve food—as in, more than just snacks. They've become more and more prominent in the New York City landscape, and nobody here at Serious Eats knows them better than our izakaya bureau chief, Tam Ngo. Last we heard, she was rocking out at Rockmeisha.
Torys is part of Ryuichi Munekata's mini izakaya chain in New York, which also includes the grill-happy Yakitori Totto, Soba Totto, and Aburiya Kinnosuke. Among the four, Torys' menu most closely mimics the chicken-intensive Yakitori Totto. But unlike Yakitori Totto, Torys is more casual, less crowded, and welcomes reservations. It's an altogether more hospitable den, which makes Torys the preferred haunt for stick meat.
Since yaki means "grilled" and tori means "chicken," a yakitori-ya naturally focuses on the grilling of myriad bird parts. If you have an appetite for gizzards, livers, knees, and tails, yakitori-yas are the place for you. But even for the less intrepid, you'll find good char at Torys.
The stick meats generally come two per order. The ground chicken skewer, tsukune, has an oblong shape that maximizes the meat's exposure to smoke. Topped with Okinawan sea salt, the tsukune shio is smoky, moist, and oddly tender. The tsukune tare is also a delight. It's a ground chicken skewer brushed with a sweetened soy-based sauce.
For those who enjoy uniformly shaped food, the yaki onigiri is a tasty skewer of grilled rice whose shape mirrors that of the tsukune. Yaki onigiri's got the crunch and char of pan-scraped rice but has the bonus taste of smoke. Yaki onigiri umejiso is the ideal flavor, with its balanced complexity of plum and shiso leaf.
The lamb chop at Torys is fine but not exceptional. Though juicy, it's a chewy and difficult dish to share.
The jidori karaage, or Hokkaido-style free range fried chicken, is chewy with dense breading. ("Jidori" indicates the chicken is free range. Though preferred for flavor, jidori makes for tougher meat.)
Soups of rice and noodles are ritual ends to a night of drinking. The Sato Yosuke's inaniwa udon is a cold noodle dish served with a side of dipping sauce. It's a mild comfort that pads the stomach nicely. The reimen—topped with seaweed, pickled ginger, chashu pork, and hard-boiled egg—is a similarly serviceable carbohydrate, but its broth just doesn't have the clarity of flavor that Riki's offers next-door.
Like the other restaurants in the chain, Torys offers Namashibori grapefruit shochu, a thrill for those who enjoy fresh juice from old-school reamers. Greyhound cocktail lovers, a toast to you.
Each of Munekata's restaurants has a focus. Aburiya Kinnosuke serves a broad range of robata dishes. Yakitori Totto's karaage is unparallelled. Soba Totto features rotating list of ambitious, seasonal dishes.
But what of the sooty art, of the yakitori grill? There's a stick-shaped hole in my heart that can only be filled by Torys.
248 East 52nd Street, New York NY 10022 (b/n 2nd and 3rd Avenues; map)