Yakitori Kokko in San Mateo [split from Gaku Japanese Grill thread]
Maybe you're thinking of Yakitori Kokko in San Mateo? Those were chicken knee cartilage prepped karaage style there, that is, battered and deep-fried.
In LA, I've also had cartilage from the chicken breast bone which is much softer vs. the crunchy, harder knee cartilage. Which does she prefer?
It took me over two months to answer that question, but I'm back.
She likes the softer breast bone cartilage. At Kokko, which I loved, they have both. I liked the hard knee bone deep fried, but the breast bone skewer was perfect to her taste, exactly what she was looking for. She silently kept pointing at the skewer while chewing, instead of saying it was good, where the knuckles got a skeptical furrowed brow. I ate most of them.
In other writing about Kokko, there's complaints about uneven cooking. We experienced a little bit of that, with our first order not being quite smokey enough, and the second order nearly perfect (point of comparison being yakitori alley near Hibiya).
We loved Kokko. We dropped by on the late side, about 10pm on a sunday. The place was half-full, the wait staff was playing Uno over large beers with two local japanese guys who had wandered in. The menus were laminated, and they had only one kind of beer. Servic is not prompt just like in a real japanese place, where it feels more like home than the perfect-service japanese style that keeps you on your toes and never relaxed.
That all being said, I remember Sumika's skewers being better, and I haven't tried the other San Mateo places. The exact location of Kokko is a plus for us, the proximity to the freeway makes it maybe a 15 minute drive at that time of day. Yum.
Any other places with the breast cartilage, not the knee?
Hit Kokko again last night. We love this place.
The place serves until 11:30 6 days a week (11 on sunday).
There were two salarymen in the exact normal salaryman suit with no food on the table drinking heavily. They were disheveled in exactly the right way. I don't know how they got there - wormhole? Does the back door open on a 4th floor hallway in Rappongi?
There was no english spoken in the entire place except our table. All Japanese.
At 9pm there was a wait. They found a table for us in a nook after a few minutes, and offered to move us to a "real table" about 15 minutes later.
Smoke level was high, cooking was solid. Meat level was good. Didn't have cartilage this time. Tried the "meatball", liked that.
Price reasonable for quality - $30/pp out the door with tax. One beer.
Atmosphere on the late side, yay! --- why go to Tokyo when there are places like this around?
Came here for what we thought to be a late dinner at 10:15pm - to find the restaurant almost entirely full.
I'm not that well traveled in yakitori, but after just one visit, I think I like Kokko more than Sumika, Halu, or Ippuku for yakitori in the bay area. This isn't to say that the skill involved in grilling is the highest among these - I feel like the doneness / crispness of chicken skin is marginally superior at both Sumika and Ippuku, and the texture of tsukune at both of those places might be a bit better too; but the much higher smoke level and bolder flavors at Kokko are definitely to my preference.
Tsukune was only pretty juicy and might not have been super tender, but had such strong, concentrated chicken flavor that I didn't mind at all. My favorites were: perfectly cooked, smooth just-thicker-than-creamy liver, a heavily grilled breast cartilage (almost shriveled, crunchy but tender), and the intensely chickeny tsukune. This is not to detract from our other orders - I really enjoyed just about everything except maybe our overdone lamb chops, but even then I don't at all regret ordering them.
My only qualm is the timing: next time we'll order in courses, because our skewers came almost all at once, so many cooled before we could give them their requisite attention. Maybe this is our own fault for not ordering in series!
They also had a great pickled yuzu condiment, maybe yuzukosho? Salty, spicy, citrusy, and fermented - could return just for this.
We spent $40 per person after tax and tip with no drinks. Fourteen skewers, two large apps, yaki onigiri, and lamb chops. Left very full and very happy.