Straight Ballin’ at Yakiton Daidara

Straight Ballin’ at Yakiton Daidara

My children.  Good at many things, but not so good at understanding economics.  My heart sinks whenever I offer to take the family out for dinner and my son asks for sushi.  As readers of this blog may infer, he can eat and eat. And eat some more.  Even if the sushi is cheap when you multiply by 4 persons (including his never-ending pit of a stomach) you are looking at $100+.  I realize this is not a fortune by any means; however,  I am rich in many things, but not money! When it comes to cash flow, I am a clogged drain. And nothing ruins a meal more than viewing each order with a sense of dread.

So, the other night in celebration of a $200 bet that I won, we all went out to dinner in our neighborhood.  The choice was Yakiton Daidara. Yakiton basically means the pork version of a yakitori restaurant – grilled pig parts on a stick.  The four of us were seated at the bar which is my happiest spot.  Daidara is a classic hood spot:  Maybe 20 seats between the counter and some small tables.  A mix of families, couples and single guys grabbing a bite with their ear pods on.  Our neighborhood adjoins a large Japanese Army base, so a fair amount of the customers were soldiers…well, not soldiers, but more like National Guardsmen.  The decor is rough and tumble — cheap tables, cheap chairs, lots of dusty pig related knick-knacks, hand-written signs detailing drink specials, a much-repaired bar. There is nothing on the entire menu that is over $3.50.  Where the owners may have skimped on decor, they have not skimped on the quality of their ingredients.  We noticed that Daidara gets their meat and chicken from the same butcher that we do — a very neatly dressed guy in his 30s that brings our orders to our door.  His meat is exceptional and a little pricey — but he always calls to check on quality and informs me of weird cuts, and rare products he gets in. One time he showed up with “country-style” pork ribs, cut from the shoulder.  They were sourced from some rare breed of Japanese pig and the fat was sweet like cotton candy.


When everything on a menu is cheap and delicious, you can go crazy.  Sure!  Why not order your tenth skewer of grilled pork cheek? That weird, fried chicken thing stuffed with cheese?  Knock yourself out! Suffice it to say, we went deep into the menu.  Raw cabbage with super garlicky miso; pork soft-bone (basically cartilage) served room temp in sesame oil, onion, black pepper, and scallion; bonito sashimi.  The chef has a long charcoal grill set up.  One side is filled with the typical Binchotan which burns steady at a fairly low temp; the other side has different charcoal, higher temp.  He flipped and rotated skewers between the two like a marimba player.  We got pork cheeks (kashira), neck meat (harami), hearts, liver, pork belly, tongue, intestine and a variety of chicken as well.  The skewers were generously portioned and perfectly cooked — nothing over-done, nothing weird and raw: a huge variety of textures and flavors.  There are only two people working at Daidara – the chef and a waitress (who also cooked, bussed and washed dishes).  Watching them in the kitchen was like watching ballet — they were in perfect synch in their tiny kitchen space, moving around each other, finishing plates, taking orders.  There were twenty hungry people in there and everything is cooked to order. No one was waiting around for food. Orders came  FAST.  Drinks on the table, check when asked, nothing forgotten.  Astounding.  I have been in restaurants in NY, with a huge, full staff, where I have waited over 20 minutes just to get a waitress to return my credit card.

When the food is so delicious and cheap; the drinks cost $2 and the atmosphere is devoid of pretense, you get giddy.  Even if you are not drinking, the smell of grilled meats, the tasty vittles that keep on arriving will get you giddy. Yes, joy descended on the Freeman clan and things got goofy.  I ended up with a beard full of yakitori sticks looking like a Jewish porcupine and taking pictures with the entire restaurant.

Total cost for this feast, this gluttony: $60 — $15 per person.  It is ridiculous.  A meal like this, with such attention to detail, such high-quality ingredients and, to a different degree, such imagination would be a fortune in New York.  No short-cuts were taken: no pre-cooking of meat, no frozen things dumped into a deep fryer.  Even the sashimi (at $2.50) was presented artfully, with care and attention to detail.   For a father, a parent, this is such a blessing.  The largesse for one’s family — which sometimes can exist only in the imagination —  is allowed to be realized by the thoughtful economics of Daidara.  So, yeah, go ahead order that skewer of grilled pig rectum (teppo)!  The check is on the big daddy right here!!!!


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