Tokyo Takeover: Bird Land

Bird Land is a Michelin starred yakitori joint that only serves chicken skewers.

Yes, you read that correctly.

It seems impossible that eight courses of chicken could be delicious and not intensely boring but I'm not one to argue (much) with the Guide Michelin and I was looking for a tasting menu that wouldn't be too seafood heavy which can be pretty tricky in Japan. Lara looked at me a bit incredulously when I told her I had made reservations somewhere focused entirely on chicken but even without seafood there were still parts of the menu to push her (and me) slightly out of the comfort zones.

Chicken Skewer Birdland, Tokyo, Japan

I'll admit, even though I like the idea of nose to tail dining, our first course was a little hard. Gizzard in gelee and skin that was more chewy than crispy wasn't quite what I was immediately prepared for. Lara had agreed to trying liver courses before the meal started but after the server noticed she hadn't finished her gizzard, he checked in again and she changed her mind. I imagine this happens often with foreigners less accustomed to eating innards than is the norm in this part of the world.

The next course for me was an extremely buttery small block of chicken liver pate and toast. I love chicken liver mousse and this was probably one of the richest I've ever tasted without being overwhelming, I even convinced Lara to eat some and while I still haven't quite won her over to pate, even she had to admit it was exceptionally creamy.

Our first skewer came with, still a bit pink in the middle with dabs of a basil heavy herb mix. As simple as it seemed, the flavors were complex and the chicken was excellent. Later in the evening we saw an American couple across the kitchen sending back their skewers because they weren't cooked enough. Just eat them slightly pink in the middle, it's delicious and I think if a Michelin starred restaurant were giving people salmonella, we'd hear about it.

Chicken Skewer with Fresh Wasabi. Birdland, Tokyo, Japan

"Are they making real wasabi?!" Lara asked me, watching the cooks grate and pinch.

"It looks like it"

Our skewer is once again deceptively simple in appearance.

"I thought I didn't like wasabi but it turns out I don't like American dyed horseradish, this is delicious!"

I nod my head in agreement. Fresh wasabi on everything please.

At the beginning of the evening, I certainly could not have predicted that possibly my favorite course would be a silky smooth house made tofu drizzled with a grassy olive oil and garnished with cracked black pepper and the world's smallest yet most flavorful tomato. I have no idea how so much flavor was packed into a tomato smaller than a penny but what initially seemed like a ludicrously small fruit for this play on caprese turned out to be just enough.

After this I get a whole skewer of livers and even though I love chicken liver mousse and the livers on this skewer are, like the mousse earlier, quite mild and buttery, by the time I'm finished I've reached my limit on liver for the evening.

For Lara, the liver courses are replaced with other chicken pieces you can order from the a la carte menu that aren't on the tasting menu. Some of them are bigger hits than others which is also true of our other skewers at this point in the meal. We have chicken oysters (a cut often abandoned with the spine), mushrooms, sansho sprinkled thighs and even cheese grilled right on the skewer that leaves us trying not to make a gigantic stretchy cheese covered mess as we bite it off. The chicken is always delicious and medium rare but some dishes have us reaching for the togarashi more than others (which maybe is the point). It seems like it will never end but eventually there's a break.

Before dessert our server asks if we'd like to order anything else and we briefly debate ordering another round of wasabi skewers but eight skewers and a few other courses later, we're actually pretty full. For desserts we order one each of the two puddings. Lara's flan is slightly overcooked but otherwise enjoyable. My rose and pistachio rice pudding is completely different than I expected, having a more western rice pudding or sweet porridge in mind. Instead it's completely smooth and firmer than the tofu we had had earlier. I assume it was made of rice starch and was almost like eating a mochi custard or a room temperature version of Turkish dondurma. It is fantastic.

There are of course plenty of cheaper places to get mountains of (much weirder) skewers in Tokyo but if you're looking for grilled meat somewhere that can be a little more accessible to foreigners than your typical smoke filled yakitori joint, I think Bird Land is a great option. The longer tasting menu costs 8,400JPY (approx US$75) and you will leave more full of chicken than you ever thought possible.

Bird Land Ginza is located at Japan, 〒104-0061 Tokyo, Chuo, Ginza, 4 Chome, 2−15 塚本 素 山 ビル B1F‎ (inside Ginza Station next to Sukiyabashi Jiro). You can find out more information and make reservations through their website.

Captivating Kansai: Beer Komachi

Karaage at Beer Komachi in Kyoto, Japan

We went to Beer Komachi at the recommendation of my twitter friend and craft beer lover @megoizzy, primarily to sample some Japanese brews, with the intention of having dinner but not really having much in the way of expectation for the food. The Japanese beers were good, but the food, which is primarily a modern take on izakaya classics, was great.

For beer, I started off with the Pumpkin Ale from Iwate, which isn't a typical choice for me, but nothing else really struck my fancy. It was more of just a pale ale than a pumpkin ale, which was fine with me but I didn't love it.

To start neither Dan or I can ever resist ordering Japanese pickles and the spread here couldn't have made us happier. Alongside the more typical radish, cucumber and cabbage, was pickled eggplant, something I would've never even thought to pickle and would have guessed I would hate. I'm not a huge eggplant fan, so I did let Dan eat more than me, but I couldn't resist such an interesting combination of flavors and texture. This was definitely bar food taken to the next level and we were incredibly excited for our next courses.

Next came the house smoked selection of the day; egg, seasoned cod roe (mentaiko), Japanese radish, cheese, salmon, edamame and pork liver. I like liver in pate and mousses but I very rarely like it whole but the smoked pork liver was an exception. I'm always a little mixed on smoked cheese, I find too often instead of a balance between creaminess and smoke, you can end up feeling like you're just eating a weird hunk of solid smoke but this one was done perfectly, slightly smoky on the rind but still creamy and delicious in the middle. The smoked egg was perfectly done with a still translucent yolk. There wasn't a loser on the plate but the smoked mentaiko absolutely stole the show. It's no secret that I absolutely love cod roe but Dan was also on board with me when it came to this being the winner. A punch of salt and smoke with a texture unlike anything else, the serving was almost too much but also made me only want to eat that forever. If Peach flight prices drop insanely low again, don't put it past me to fly to Kyoto just in hopes that the mentaiko will still be on the menu.

Our "main course" was karaage and french fries because I'm also incapable of saying no to Japanese fried chicken. I stole Dan's Black IPA from Tochigi when it turned out to be more like a porter and less like an IPA which was ideal for me. The "fried potato with Kyoto chili peppers" were nothing exceptional but they were well seasoned. The beer battered karaage was beautifully fried, crunch on the outside, well seasoned with just a hint of ginger and steamy and moist on the inside.

With it's low key atmosphere and our seat at the bar allowing us to watch the preparation of so many delicious foods coming out of the tiny kitchen behind the bar, we wanted to stay for another round (and considered ordering more food even though we had had plenty) but unfortunately it's cash only and we realized we had just enough on us to cover our four beers and four plates so instead we settled up and headed back to the train to Osaka. But if we go back to Kansai, we might need to stay in Kyoto instead just to be able to stop by more than once.

Beer Komachi is located at 444 Hachikencho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan, you can find more information on their facebook page or twitter.