The Secret Japanese Restaurant You Can’t Go To
You need to be invited to dine at Toridokoro Matsumoto, a hidden restaurant that specializes in yakitori.
Chicken tataki or sashimi, essentially just seared and eaten mostly raw. This is the specialty of Toridokoro Matsumoto, a secret Japanese yakitori restaurant in Honolulu.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox
I’m not one for secret anything—menus, meetings, Santas—so when I heard about a secret-ish restaurant in Honolulu that specializes in yakitori, I wasn’t obsessing over how to get an invitation to dinner. If it’s a secret, maybe I don’t want to know about it.
But I was curious.
This is the dilemma: When you dine at such an exclusive restaurant, where you actually need to be invited by a regular patron and can’t disclose where it’s located, would you tell people about it? Would that just be bragging? Or would others want to know, too, even if they can’t go?
Inside Toridokoro Matsumoto, the location of which is a secret.
I was perfectly happy to just hear about this restaurant, Toridokoro Matsumoto, from lucky in-the-know friends who have gone. I saw their photos on Instagram and read a couple of blog posts about it. It was like I was there.
But, after (finally) experiencing the food first-hand last Friday, I can honestly say the photos didn’t capture the complexity of flavors, the subtle and careful seasoning, the impeccable service.
So I guess I’m just bragging now.
Secret restaurants are not uncommon in Asia, with foodies flocking to hidden spots in Singapore, China and Japan. It’s similar to the rise of speakeasies in the U.S., where you need directions and passwords to get in. People want to feel special and important, and secret restaurants, bars and menus do exactly that.
It doesn’t seem like chef-owner Osamu Yamamoto is trying to be trendy with his approach to dining. He just wants serious patrons who appreciate what he’s serving and not just show up to boost their Instagram.
The nondescript restaurant is located in Honolulu, at a location we’re not allowed to share. There are no significant signs or parking, and you’d probably never know an exclusive, high-end restaurant was located there. The menu is in Japanese and only minimal English is understood. But that’s OK since the menu is prix fixe ($100 per person) and all you can really order are drinks. (The server did ask if I had any dietary restrictions, which was nice.)
The star here is chicken, in all ways: chicken liver pâté and toast points, minced chicken stuffed into a bell pepper, chicken tsukene (meatballs). The showstopper, though, is the chicken tataki, pieces of fresh chicken lightly seared (but really raw) with slivers of red onion and shiso. It’s really not as scary as it sounds, considering we’ve long been told to never handle raw chicken—eating chicken sashimi puts a person at a high risk of getting an infection caused by Campylobacter or Salmonella, two types of bacteria that cause food poisoning—and here we are eating it. The chicken the restaurant uses is raised on a secret farm on Hawai‘i Island, so Yamamoto assures it’s super fresh. The tataki tastes a lot like ‘ahi sashimi, clean, a little chewy in parts. It’s been almost a week and I’m still alive.
The trio of appetizers features, from top, pickled gobo with sesame, a cherry tomato in dashi and chicken that was turned into a kind of ham and paired with a grain mustard.
Creamy chicken liver pâté and toast points and a bell pepper stuffed with minced chicken.
Shredded daikon with wasabi and micro pea shoots.
Pieces of chicken sasami, the tender part beneath the breast, with a dab of wasabi. All of the yakitori dishes came with a side of truffle and miso salts.
What’s interesting about this concept is the humble chicken is really elevated, and every part of it—from the gizzards to the sasami, the tender part of a chicken located under the breast—is used. You learn a lot about chicken anatomy here.
There are some nonchicken dishes, too: an amuse-bouche of chilled avocado soup with onions and edamame, a peeled cherry tomato in dashi and dressed with Parmesan cheese, a shredded daikon salad with wasabi and micro pea shoots, grilled shishito peppers and yamaimo, two soft-boiled quail eggs on skewers and the restaurant’s special mushroom fried rice. Dessert, one of the few dishes that change, is a creamy custard—again, using chicken in the form of its eggs—paired with a green tea from Fukuoka served chilled in a Champagne flute.
Grilled soft-boiled quail eggs.
Chicken gizzards with a teriyaki sauce.
The restaurant’s special mushroom fried rice with chicken soup and pickles.
Every dish was meticulously cooked, plated and served, as you’d expect in a secret Japanese yakitori restaurant. And though each serving was purposefully small, after more than 10 courses, I was adequately full but, interestingly enough, not sick of chicken.
But don’t hit me up for an invite. I’m not quite on the “regular” list yet.