Grilling technique is especially important because Torien’s use of seasonings is minimalist; almost every skewer is salted, and some, but not all, are brushed with tare. On the counter are ceramic pots of powdered sansho pepper and the spice blend shichimi togarashi. There is also a pot of soy mixed with dashi, but most Japanese customers would use this only to season the raw daikon radish, which plays the same role in a yakitori counter that pickled ginger plays at a sushi bar: It’s there to reset your palate. (The juicy, sweet, roughly grated daikon at Torien also happens to be delicious.)
Mr. Ikegawa taught his chef at Torien, Atsushi Ganaha, how to cook yakitori his way in frequent remote-learning sessions during the pandemic, supplemented by some in-person training. With the help of this far-from-traditional apprenticeship, Torien stands in the upper tier of yakitori restaurants in New York. Its nearest competitor is the omakase counter at Torishin, possibly — I have not been back since the chef, Atsushi Kono, left.
And yet: A still higher level of yakitori skill is possible, a sensitivity that can make it seem as if the ideal cooking technique has been discovered for each skewer. I experienced this level on a night when the grill was being tended by one of Mr. Ikegawa’s lieutenants from Tokyo. Flavorful juices that tasted like captured essences swirled through a nearly collapsed cipollini onion and a meatball of minced chicken and scallions. Every skewer tasted of smoke, but not of soot or char. My memory reeled back and forth in time, trying to come up with a more effectively frizzled nub of broccoli, another forewing that tempted me to lick every bit of flesh from the harplike frame of thin bones.
The bad news is that this lieutenant was called back to Tokyo a few days later. This is, of course, the problem with trying to open a branch of a restaurant whose fame rests on the touch of one chef. That’s often the case with small sushi counters, and explains why simply taking Shion Uino away from Sushi Saito, in Tokyo, and setting him up at Sushi Amane in Midtown did not mean that his restaurant was as good as Sushi Saito.