Given the macho atmosphere of most izakayas, with their clientele of hard-drinking salarymen and meat-centric menus, it might come as a surprise to learn that the chef of three of the city’s best — Yakitori Totto, Torys, and the brand-new Soba Totto — are all under the control of a woman. Mika Ohie is a first-class cook and kitchen manager who runs all three restaurants with an iron hand, says her boss, owner Ryuichi “Bobby” Munekata. “I hardly go in the kitchen at Yakitori Totto,” he says. “I leave it all up to her.” But Ohie admits kitchens are not the friendliest places. “Kitchens are very tough. You need to accept the challenge of running one,” she tells us. “I love to cook, but restaurant work is definitely tough.”
At Soba Totto, Ohie oversees the yakitori menu while helping run a kitchen she shares with resident soba master Shuichi Kopani. Soba hasn’t caught the imagination of New Yorkers; for all its traditionalist mystique, many still find it to be buckwheat noodles at the end of the day. But Kopani is developing new kinds of soba dishes, both hot and cold, with ponzu and cream sauces. And anyone not in the mood for soba still gets to eat Ohie’s yakitori.