Skewer tasty treats at Famous Yakitori One

Special to The Baltimore Sun

Famous Yakitori One Restaurant is new in Lower Charles Village. Three popular Korean restaurants are within a few blocks, and there are a few Korean dishes on Yakitori One's menu. Maybe that's a given. But the specialty at this Japanese restaurant is - you guessed it - yakitori, those little grilled and skewered appetizers you find in many Japanese restaurants.

Yakitori literally means grilled chicken, but the term is liberally applied, at least here, not only to parts of the chicken, but to bits of vegetable, meat and seafood, too.

The very young owner here is Jae Kim, and Yakitori One has an infectiously youthful and arty ambience. Alternative music plays at a sensible level through both Yakitori One's small rooms. The somewhat featureless, slightly cramped front room includes counter seating by the yakitori grill; the side room is larger and features an arresting wall-size assemblage that suggests a map of the Tokyo subway system. It's easy to picture Yakitori One, three steps below street level on a forgotten corner, catching on with folks headed to or from the nearby bars and nightclubs. The food is inexpensive and filling.

You could make a quick meal, or a big snack, out of yummy skewered treats alone. Pre-grill seasoning gives everything a nice zesty bite. You can order them, as you'd do with maki, either a la carte (for as little as $1 for a chicken skewer), or as one of the four sets that Yakitori One has devised for simplified ordering. One such set features all meat; another mixes meat and seafood; yet another has seafood and vegetables. The Yakitori Set, 30 skewers for $29.95, is for going a little crazy.

We really liked the versions with short rib, squid legs and especially asparagus wrapped in bacon. And there are small revelations like the version with shiitake, when something normally bland is suddenly packed with interesting flavor. Yakitori One's skewers are not overly ambitious, and some of the delicacies seen among the offerings of a more authentic yakitori house - neck, guts and cartilage - aren't here.

You will probably end up ordering from the other parts of the menu, too. There's not much you can do to go wrong. The meals-in-a-bowl here are just fine, certainly comparable to more expensive versions at fancier places. Oden is a mildly seasoned broth filled with a variety of colorful, puffy fish cakes. You can almost feel your well-being improve as you eat it. We tried a tempura udon, too, a stronger broth with crispy battered shrimp and vegetables and long, slurpy buckwheat noodles.

Donburi are big bowls of seasoned rice topped with one or two simply prepared items: a chicken curry, a deep-fried cutlet or, our satisfying choice, savory barbecued Korean short ribs. A box dinner built around the Korean classic bulgogi impressed us, too, with not only the good tender meat but the treats in the box's other compartments: crisp lettuce salad, edamame, dumplings, pretty translucent slices of daikon radish and, on the side, a cup of good miso soup. This was another bargain, too.

We ordered way more than we needed, gathering up appetizers of shrimp and pork dumplings, a rice ball, one of those indispensable Korean seafood pancakes (the version here is excellent, not so greasy) and even bowls of green tea and red bean ice cream. You could easily satisfy yourself at Yakitori One for about $20, including an imported beer. Yakitori One might have a BYOB vibe, but in fact it has a full liquor license. There's a selection of sake, too.

Our server fit the ambience, making up for a lack of polish with laid-back friendliness. The food came out reasonably quickly, but I wonder what a big crowd would do to the pace and to the place's essentially good nature. On my visit, I was charmed by every bit of it.

famous yakitori one restaurant Where: 2101 Maryland Ave.

Call: 410-332-1100

Food: ***

Service: ** 1/2

Ambience: ** 1/2

Credit cards: Visa, Mastercard, AMEX

Open: 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Monday, 5 p.m.-2 a.m.Tuesday-Sunday

Appetizers: $2.95-$10.95

Entrees: $3.95-$14.95

on the menu •Gyoza: $3.95

•Shrimp dumplings: $3.95

•Yakitori beef and vegetable set: $10.95

•Yakitori vegetable set: $9.95

•Bulgogi box: $8.95

•Seafood pancake: $5.95

•Galbi (short rib) donburi: $8.50

•Oden soup with assorted fish cakes: $6.95

•Tempura udon: $7.95

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