At first glance, it’s hard to tell whether Tori Tori wants to be a restaurant or a bar that serves food.
Its name, which, roughly translated, is Japanese for Poultry Poultry or Chicken Chicken, would suggest the former. Its mien, however, is more of a cocktail lounge, with a large bar that dominates the sizable space and a few booths that ring the perimeter of the room. Even for those who choose to sit at a table – or can find an empty seat at one – there is no table service; orders for food and drinks must be placed with a bartender; food runners deliver the orders.
And there seem to be more drink options on the small booklet-size menu than food, which is all small plates (and presented in small print for that matter). There’s even a section of the menu labeled Bar Food.
But none of this is “bar food.” Each dish is thoughtfully conceived and expertly executed.
That the quality of the food is so good should not come as a surprise once you know that Tori Tori is the project of Sonny Nguyen, who also owns the well-received Domu restaurants.
The first sections of the food menu are Yakitori and Kushiyaki, which basically mean chicken skewers and not-chicken skewers. And besides the Bar Food section, there’s another featuring “Handies,” or hand rolls.
I arrived at Tori Tori early in the evening – and I suggest you do, too, if you want to get a seat – and my dining companion was running late, so I ordered the Otoro handie and Pork Belly Gyoza to tide me over while I waited.
The Handies feature nori sheets folded with rice and seafood inside. To keep the seaweed wrapper crisp, a sheet of wax paper is placed between the nori and the ingredients. (A note on the menu admonishes diners to remove the sheet before eating.)
It’s a brilliant device because the nori was indeed as crisp as could be, and the mix of tuna and rice with a bit of chopped scallions was delicious. I planned to save a bite for my companion to enjoy but I ended up eating it all myself.
The Gyoza were almost gone, too, but my friend arrived in time to have one or two of the pan-fried dumpling with the fatty pork filling, served in a yuzu flavored remoulade.
Tori Tori breaks down its own chicken chicken, 15 a day according to the menu, and only the feathers, it would seem, aren’t used. So you’ll find yakitori of wings, heart, gizzards and even breast cartilage. We went for the thigh meat selection with a salt crust (tare, a thick soy dipping sauce is also an option). The thigh meat was tender and the crust added only a slight salty note.
We also had the Pork Belly kushiyaki, which had little blocks of belly meat topped with a tangy chimichurri.
I also liked the Tempura Corn, which were fried balls of corn and tempura batter served in a garlic mayo sauce.
Another Handie, this one with blue crab meat, wasn’t as impressive as the otoro.
Okonomiyaki, which may be the largest item on the menu, was a Japanese pancake made with mountain yam. It was topped with TT’s own barbecue sauce, seaweed powder, ginger and bonita flakes. The ginger gave it a nice tang and the fish flakes added a bit of saltiness, though in truth it could have used a bit more seasoning.
From the list of fun cocktails I had the Brooklyn, cheekily described as a Manhattan’s “younger, hipper” cousin. Made with 1776 rye, Carpano Dry and Ramazzotti Amaro, it was quite as alcoholic as a Manhattan but was eminently sippable. And it had its cousin’s maraschino cherry, because some things are always hip.
The bartending and food staff were amiable. Food, by the way, comes out at a lightening pace.
The space, formerly Trung My Oriental Market, is younger and hipper than the Brooklyn cocktail. Lighting in the bar and dining space is low and moody, but overhead the ceiling space of unpainted wooden trusses is up-lighted and accentuated. The kitchen, at the back of the space, is open to the bar. A pleasant urban feel.
I have a feeling the target market of Tori Tori is the younger, hipper crowd. But anyone who appreciates something new and innovative will enjoy it just as much. Maybe more.
Tori Tori Pub is at 720 N. Mills, Ave., Orlando, It is open for dinner daily, including late night. The phone number is not published.