For decades, Japanese restaurants in the U.S. have meant one of two things: sushi, or a smörgasbord of every other Japanese dish available. It wasn't uncommon (and it's still not) to see noodles, teriyaki, tempura, and sukiyaki all on the same menu.
In Japan, however, things are a bit different. Restaurant menus tend to focus on either a specific cooking technique or a specific meat. So, for instance, if a restaurant serves tempura—that's battered, fried food—it will most likely serve only tempura. A ramen-ya will specialize in serving broth and noodles. A yakitori-ya will serve grilled chicken on a stick (with perhaps a few appetizers or side dishes). After all, that's the specialty the chef has trained in—how could one restaurant possibly be expected to be the best at every single cooking technique?
It's a completely different approach to the Western restaurant menu, which tends to have a much more "something for everyone" attitude, and it's an approach that results in more specialized, esoteric menu items. If the only thing your restaurant serves is grilled chicken on a stick, you've got to get creative and adventurous to flesh out a full menu.
Case in point: Yakiniku Takashi in the West Village, a just-over-one-year-old spot opened by Takashi Inoue, a native and twelve-year veteran of the Osaka yakiniku scene. Not only do they specialize in a single form of cooking, they also only serve a single type of meat.
Yakiniku—that is, thin-sliced meats coated in a sweet and salty marinade and cooked over a hot grill—is a style of cooking that is Korean in origin, but has taken a life of its own in Japan. You're probably more familiar with the staples of its Korean predecessor, such as kalbi or bulgogi. The Japanese form is not all that different, though it tends to use different cuts of beef as well as different marinade formation.
Before opening Yakiniku Takashi, Inoue spent over a year sourcing out the various cuts of beef organ meat that he uses on the menu before settling on awesome stuff from Dickson's and Pat LaFrieda, as well as American-raised Kobe-style beef. On his menu you'll find everything from rich, fatty beef cheek to spongy, slightly chewy large intestine, with every stomach in between.
The meats all get briefly marinated in a mixture of soy, apples, orange marmalade, sesame oil, rice vinegar, and a few other ingredients before being charred over high-tech infrared grills installed in the tables.
To be honest, organ meat is not for everyone, and there are some things that will certainly appeal to meat and potato types more than others. If you're a bit squeamish, stick to the muscle-based meats such as the hanger, tongue, or cheek. Sweetbreads are a good gateway organ with a mild flavor and creamy texture, while honeycomb tripe is a good first step into digestive-system meats. You should start with that before delving straight into large intestine, for example, which can be fatty and delicious, but is not for the weak-jawed (or stomached).
Look for a special of marinated testicles if they've got it. Similar to sweetbreads in texture but just a bit firmer with a very distinct flavor that I'm going to have to call... nutty.
Quick Guide to Beef Offal
Peep through the slideshow for more pics and descriptions of what you can expect to find inside a cow.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.