On the upper east side of Manhattan, Tori Shin is a yakitori bar specialising in grilled chicken. There are three tables, but most of the covers are in the form of counter seating, arrayed around a maplewood counter. The chefs work at the charcoal grills in front of you, and there is a further kitchen area behind. This is no ordinary charcoal, but white charcoal, called binchotan, imported from Japan and made from oak, which is prized by yakitori chefs.
At lunch the omakese menu is just $20 (a larger menu is available in the evening), starting with a salad, then three skewers of chicken and two of vegetables, plus rice, daikon, pickles and miso soup. There are a few wines available, as well as a list of sake. The wines included Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir at $37 for a wine that costs around $22 in a shop, and even Opus One at $400. Bizarrely, no vintages are given, so the Opus One may or may not have a good mark-up; on average it costs around $270, but this varies significantly by vintage.
The salad was pleasant and well presented but the quality of the ingredients was ordinary, and the miso was rather watery (1/10). However, this is a yakitori bar, so the grilling is the thing. Some asparagus and green chilli was carefully cooked, with three styles of chicken: breast, thigh and rib. These were very good, the grilled food having a very nice flavour note from the charcoal. The chicken is free range, from Pennsylvania, and is really the limiting factor here, as there is only so much flavour that can be found in chicken here compared to Japan or France. Still, the cooking was skilful and the good quality charcoal used here lifted the dish (4/10).
Service was friendly (there was a solitary Japanese waitress at lunch), and with a soft drink the bill was still just $26 (£16), which is excellent value. Of course it would cost more in the evening. The Michelin star this restaurant was awarded in the 2012 guide will set perhaps unreasonable expectations, but that is hardly the fault of the restaurant. A very enjoyable lunch, and superb value.