9. Yakitori. Yaki means grill and tori means bird and thereby hangs the tale of what has to be the succulent apotheosis of grilled chicken. At my first sampling at Toricho on the Ginza in Tokyo, I was totally enchanted by the tiny bits of moist nuggets of dark chicken meat punctuated here and there with a wisp of scallion, or a dice of green pepper or a chunk of mushroom, all run on tiny bamboo skewers and grilled over charcoal behind the ten-seat counter and before my very eyes. Skewers were served one at a time for maximum hot freshness, alternated with cracklings of crisply grilled chicken skin, tiny balls of ground white meat, and bits of poultry livers, gizzards and hearts. Marinated in a blend of mildly sweet mirin wine, rock sugar and a combination of aged soy sauces, the poultry took on a burnished bittersweet flavor and a glaze that protected the meat’s juices, all to get an extra touch of heat with a dip into aromatic sansho pepper powder or the spicier blend, shichimi. Not only the food at Toricho registered so strongly in my memory. I was even more impressed by the commitment to quality in this decades-old restaurant. Believing refrigeration destroys chicken’s flavor, the owners of Toricho used to close down in July and August when unchilled chicken might spoil.
Toricho, Ginza, Namiki-Dori Street, Tokyo. Tel: 81-3-3571-4650.
10. The single best meal of my life—so far. By 1979, there had been a 15-year lapse since my first and only visit to Chez L’Ami Louis, that always exorbitantly expensive, lustily delicious, unprepossessing bistro in Paris’s 3rd arrondissement. In that year I made a two-and-a-half week trip through France to report on the then new nouvelle cuisine created by chefs described as “young Turks.” Returning to Paris and exhausted by the cleverness of the new, I looked for the oldest chef in town. A bit of research indicated Antoine Magnin, then reportedly 80 years old and cooking at L’Ami Louis since it opened in 1924. The dinner four of us had there was so totally stunning and soul satisfying it virtually wiped out memories of the new. And indeed that incomparably creamy and decadent foie gras simply served with chunks of bread toasted over a wood fire, the sizzling giant snails, the roseate garlic and thyme-scented gigot of lamb, the legendary roast Bresse chicken, the blood-red entrecôte and crackling roasted kidneys continue at what I think of as Louis’ place, even while most of the nouvelle creations have disappeared, although their melodies linger on. My account proved to be a wildly popular article, and a valuable lesson professionally: When everyone is looking to the right (or the new), better to check up on the left (or the old).
L’Ami Louis, 32 Rue Vertbois 75003 Paris. Tel: 01-48-87-77-48.