Shamo is a breed of game bird known for its tasty, slightly chewy meat, and it's the bird of choice on the busy grills at Kokekokko. This modest-looking yakitoriya serves the usual selection of chicken parts on skewers - all very high in quality - along with beautiful grilled vegetables and appealing side dishes, including chicken sashimi. Besides serving birds of distinguished pedigree (always fresh, never frozen), they also take pride in the quality of their charcoal (kishu binchotan from Wakayama) and their gourmet salt (sea salt from Bretagne).
The chicken wings are one of the highlights here, or actually two of the highlights - they offer both tebanaka and tebamoto (meat from the middle and upper wing, repectively), rather than the more common tebasaki. Both are served boneless and are quite juicy and flavorful. The sasami (breast meat) is very rare on the inside, topped with fresh-ground wasabi in tiny dabs that don't overpower the flavor. The tsukune (minced chicken patty) is substantial in size and very meaty, accompanied by a richly flavored, bright-yellow raw egg for dipping.
Lined up on the grill alongside the chicken skewers is an impressive array of vegetables - gigantic shiitake mushrooms, big chunks of eringi mushroom, large cubes of eggplant, and a few things you don't see every day, like baby corn and delicate, gingery myoga buds. Pickles are made from colorful Kyoto heirloom vegetables, prepared with a light touch so that they are fresh-tasting and just barely salty. Other side dishes include liver pate, tataki (chicken seared on the outside, raw in the middle), and a sashimi platter with raw chicken meat and chicken liver. Four premium sakes and a handful of shochu brands supplement the usual beer and chuhai cocktails on the drinks list.
The tiny shop is wedged into a basement corner of a shopping complex, adjoining the Shinjuku station underground (there's a Uniqlo at ground level). Seating is tight but the counter is comfortably wide, the modern decor is tasteful and subdued, and the atmosphere is convivial. The sixteen counter seats fill up quickly, but there's reasonable turnover during the course of the evening if you're a single diner or a pair. Groups can reserve a table in the separate private room, which seats eight. Budget around Y3500-4500 for a dinner-size portion of food and drinks.
by Robb Satterwhite