No doubt the chicken crossed the road to Kotori, a new pop-up restaurant that fearlessly showcases traditional yakitori grilling. This summer, the owners of Biwa transformed a gravelly space on the corner of SE 9th and Pine St. into a welcoming place to celebrate this cornerstone of Japanese cuisine. Vibrant lanterns add pops of color while aromas from the yakitori grill waft into the lazy air. An impressive handcrafted tachinomi bar gives a nod to Japanese culture, serving as a culinary sanctuary where people can stand and enjoy drinks with small plates of gourmet meat skewers.
After my experience at Kotori, I learned that yakitori basically encompasses a gastronomical way of dissecting chicken and presenting it in an original, delicious manner. There’s simple meat marinating, a ferociously hot grill, and no chicken part left behind. I tried an immense number of skewers, with the meat all sourced from local farms. A smear of ume (Japanese plum) mustard accompanied the food to add a sharp, salty kick to the flavors.
The real MVP out of all of them was the chicken with grilled pineapple. Nothing was more glorious than sinking my teeth into a large hunk of chicken glazed with sweet, tangy pineapple juice. Grilling the pineapple gave the fruit more fragrance, and coupling that with the chicken produced a fantastic combination of flavors that made me wish it was a larger portion size.
I also greatly enjoyed the pope’s nose (the tail). The meat was sliced thin and small, featuring a slight crispiness. It had a deeply rich flavor, presenting itself as an enticing “treat yourself” snack.
The next two I devoured were the keel cartilage (the part between the chicken breasts) and the ground chicken. These two were fairly safe choices—the keel cartilage had a mild savoriness and a hint of salt while the ground chicken resembled a soft meatball with bits of green onion and a rather light flavor.
The chicken oysters (underneath the tenderloin) appeared to have the most meat, and they also carried a lovely tenderness that was complemented by a beautiful charred exterior and a glistening sheen of juiciness.
My experience with trying the chicken hearts, however, will be forever seared in my brain. I don’t know why I assumed there would only be a few hearts, but when I looked down, there were nine of them innocently lined up before me. I gulped and couldn’t help but imagine them all pumping little pulses, which didn’t help much. But I summoned up my courage and popped one into my mouth.
It definitely tasted fresh. The flavor emphasized saltiness, followed by a familiar metallic tang. The heart also had a supple and chewy consistency similar to octopus but less rubbery. I applaud Kotori for embracing all parts of the chicken, but polishing off nine hearts was no easy feat. Still, the feeling of satisfaction after taking that risk was worth it.
Although I tried multiple skewers, I would actually say that Kotori is more of a destination to curb a smaller appetite. At four dollars per skewer, this curbside restaurant is a wonderful place to savor a meaty snack but perhaps not a full meal. Nevertheless, head over if you want a fascinating Japanese food experience to kick off the weekend, or if you’re keen on breaking out of your comfort zone with some unique eats. Or if you just really, really like chicken.
Only open for the summer on Thursdays to Sundays, Kotori’s hours are 4 pm to sundown.