New Camera, Chopsticks, Maki Rolls

Grand Katachi

At the end of this week, an order arrived for me from an Amazon purchase. Not that I really needed another one, but I had ordered a Nikon 1 J1 mirrorless camera. Because I had been using my high-end Nikon and Canon cameras, I had relegated all other cameras to point-and-shoot status. Honestly, the point-and-shoot cameras are more ideal for the foodtography that I do because they are less conspicuous and they bring very little attention to me clicking away capturing impressions of the food delights. But I am such a stickler for the quality of the photography that I post on Chicago Alphabet Soup, which may be why so many advertising agents who read the blog think I purchase the photos from the restaurants I review. Nevertheless, the Nikon 1 J1 arrived and that meant I needed to start testing it out to see if it was indeed worthy of the purchase.

Green Jasmine Tea

Green Jasmine Tea

I spent Saturday testing shots at  my favourite Indian restaurant in Edgewater. Then I sauntered over to my favourite North Side coffee and dessert shop for more clicks. Sunday morning before church I tried my hand at foodtography at a breakfast spot I had discovered. Up to that point, I was loving the output that I was seeing. Then later in the day, my belly was growling and that meant it was time for me to head out in search of something full of flavour to quiet the rumbling. With a bit of the North Side disrupted with a street festival — a reason for guzzling beer, as if one can’t do that in his or her own home or in a sports bar — I lingered around the Lincoln Park vicinity and wandered past a Japanese sushi bar named Grand Katachi at 4747 N. Damen Avenue, that had a magnetic appeal to it. And I, the culinary vampire, entered so that I could sink my pretty teeth into some worthy goodness.

Gyoza

Gyoza

I started with jasmine green tea and gyoza. These fried Japanese dumplings served with balsamic shoyu dip were great for whetting the appetite. There was a moment when I thought of the festival participants, many who were barely a few weeks over the age of 21 and so giddy with elan that they could finally drink without someone of legal age sneaking them a beer, stumbling around spilling their beer and giggling for no valid reason. They could have been getting fed something aside from fizzy pop and carnival vittles, served by vendors with dirty hands. That was a quick thought as I worked the metal chopsticks on the gyoza and washed the morsels down with the jasmine green tea.

Sweet Potato Maki

Sweet Potato Maki

Caterpillar Maki

Caterpillar Maki

Being a little more adventurous than I should have been, I had ordered three maki rolls all at once. It was when the flight of maki came to the table that my eyes widened and I thought to myself that I should have played it safely and ordered one at a time. Water under the bridge, as they say, since I simply decided that I would pace myself and enjoy the maki rolls. The North Side was practically in gridlock thanks to the street festival a few major blocks south of where I was and I had time to click away with my recent Nikon 1 J1 purchase.

Dragon Maki

Dragon Maki

Not trying to be a prude about my experience and tackling each maki linearly to completion before moving on to the next, I had one piece of each until I was done and reaching for the pillow at the table next to me. The sweet potato maki was the first to have me singing with a low soprano: Satisfying. Then there was the caterpillar maki that kicked in with a tenor: Gratifying. The dragon maki rounded everything out in bass: Electrifying. In my mental Disney, I was in the middle of the floor with a spotlight on me while I was singing, “What’s up, maki rolls? Whoa, whoa, whoa,” after which I launched into my Tom Jones dance. However, in reality, pedestrians who were walking by the restaurant were looking at me sitting at the window seat with a face fixed complete with a stupid smile. Don’t ask me how I finished all of the maki rolls. Just know that I did. And another nugget of information is I somehow had enough room for dessert. So, I had green tea ice cream.  Cue scene with me rocketing to the moon.

Cup of Tea

Cup of Tea

Green Tea Ice Cream

Green Tea Ice Cream

Grand Katachi seems like a potpourri of all things hip once you go in. Usually, Japanese sushi bars and lounges have the sterile, Stanley Kubrick effect where it is quite evident that the interior designer and decorator were men. Pay attention to the colour schemes, or the lack thereof. Now, I will admit that I went when perhaps it was light in patrons. However, the service was top and seeing that I all but licked the plate and found a way to sop the remnants of the ice cream from the glass, the quality was also top. If my mind serves me correct, you bring your own alcohol if you so desire to have libations other than soda, tea, or water. The prices don’t come in a discount fashion, so beware if you’re budget conscious. Not all of the action is to be had on Lincoln Avenue proper. And if you get a new camera or even if you don’t, I think you will find bliss at Grand Katachi. You may even do your Tom Jones dance while clicking the metal chopsticks to make the sounds of castanets. What’s up, maki rolls? Whoa, whoa, whoa.

Grand Katachi on Urbanspoon Grand Katachi on Foodio54

Gambling, No Win

The month of April has been a wonderful month for me. Having had a birthday on the fifth of April, I began a great deal of celebration. With many other friends having birthdays this month, that means I have been in feasting mode since the month began. Food. Desserts. Drinks. Reminiscing. All the good things. There has not been one day or evening that I have not been pleased from some type of food satisfaction. Even the night prior to me penning this journal entry I was at an Indian restaurant with a great friend having a fabulous time on some choley batura and four incredibly large shrimp. And to think that I woke with hunger again, ready for action, hankering to quiet the monster that growled endlessly. Being the puppet that I am, I figured that I would venture to the South Side down to Hyde Park to work my appetite on something at one of the many restaurants there. Through congestion and gauntlets of crazy drivers, I cursed and projected foul language the entire drive from my condo to Hyde Park. Shinju Sushi I arrived in Hyde Park and decided that I would start at 53rd Street and find something along that stretch. Thai. Italian. Barbecue. Japanese. Coffee. The selection was vast, but my hunger wanted me to be quick. So, I settled for Japanese at Shinju Sushi, located at 1535 E. 53rd Street. Upon entry, I had a bit of the welcoming feeling you receive when you go to saucy fast food joints but with a hostess who takes you to your seat. A rather cold welcome, a quick escort to my seat, and that was it. Not much of a problem, but while reviewing the short list of sushi options, one server came by and yanked the main menu. This was a red flag. Needless to say, I did not have a chance to see what was on that menu, just in case I may have had an interest ordering something from that bill of fare. Miso Soup Miso soup was one item I was going to order, but a server had brought out a bowl that I took for being complimentary. Enough to warm me up on the inside, considering it was brisk outside, I devoured the bowl of miso soup with a smile. By then, I had finished my order. I had a taste for gyosa, unagi maki, and shrimp tempura maki. No sooner had I handed the selection to the waitress than she returned with the gyosa. It was as though there was some telepathy involved. The chef knew that I wanted gyosa. Served with the accompanying sauce, this fried potsticker appetizer was tasty the way I have had other gyosa — albeit at room temperature. Gyosa After having the second of the five gyosas, the sushi came to the table. Again, the chef must have had some kind of telepathy because sushi does not come quickly unless it has been prepared in advance. And at the risk of sounding like a sushi snob, there was a hint of pre-packaging that I gathered based on the first bite. If you have bought any pre-made sushi or if you have ever had sushi or a maki and saved some for later, there is a certain texture that the sushi takes on. While not stale, each bite presents the feel of chewing gum that has been gnawed for half of an hour. This was the case with the unagi maki. In addition to the noticeable texture, the eel sauce on the maki was rather sweet. An indication of my gums experiencing a slight throb was hint enough that the unagi sauce on the maki was more saccharine than necessary. Little kids who thrive on sugary treats to perk their already-boosted energy would love the unagi maki. Unagi When it was time to consider having my way with the shrimp tempura, I had opted to leave a few pieces of the unagi maki alone. Yet again, there was the texture of pre-made sushi and at room temperature. Add to that the sugary sauce that had been used to douse the shrimp tempura maki. Oh were my teeth sensitive. Having a low sugar diet, and primarily avoiding anything with high fructose corn syrup and excessive quantities of sugar, my palate goes into overdrive, my gums come to life, and my teeth tingle like I have drowned them in ice water. I could only stomach a few pieces of the shrimp tempura maki. Honestly, the whole process was a case study in me forcing myself to eat and that is problematic considering I have an outrageous appetite that requires little coaxing for stuffing my jaws.Tempura Shrimp Shinju Sushi is one of those restaurants that I would have plugged shamelessly during my college days. The cheap prices — a buffet of $14.99 — and just the mention of sushi would have been enough for me to have stamped myself as sushi omnipotent, as though I had lived my whole life in Japanese going to the best sushi bars ever, and been a walking advertisement. After watching sushi chefs work their magic on fresh ingredients, it is easy to become a purist. Then you have sushi with questionable texture and excessively sweet taste. Well, you win some. And then you return to sushi bars where you have walked away teetering from having eaten so much fresh and tasty sushi and maki. Yes, you win some.

Shinju Sushi on Urbanspoon

Yakitori Meets Logan Square

One of the great things about living in an up and coming neighbourhood is that you get to see all of the changes that take place. New clothing boutiques. New coffee shops. Boulangeries. Food markets. A yakitori. When I am not driving, I take advantage of public transportation and I can see many businesses pass before me. One that caught my eye was in an area that once housed a once-defunct bar that seems to have become a part of the growth in my neighbourhood of Logan Square. What was once a dive is now a high-end boutique restaurant that panders to the yakitori style of cooking. Lucky for me 2853 N. Kedzie Avenue is not far from where I live, which means that Yusho is now on my list of restaurants in my vicinity to visit frequently.

Pisco Punch

Common with many boutique restaurants, you experience ambience and some rather nice boutique jazz or lounge music that can be rather hypnotic. Yusho is a restaurant for a date or for meeting friends. For me, it was a chance to see if this addition to the Logan Square neighbourhood will warrant several encores. Perusing the menu, I started with a pisco punch. Something that I could certainly see myself indulging on a hot summer day, the glass of Don Cesar special pisco, sencha, pineapple, and umeboshi gomme syrup, and garnished with lemon, gave an indication that the bartender on staff deserved an applause. Usually when drinks are well-balanced, the flavour is flat. Not that I am a beverage guru — or snob — but it was easy to tell which ingredients made the liquid concoction without any of them being tempered or overpowering. Mind you, I had come to this conclusion after about four sips, after which it was time for me to give my first round of orders.

Chicken Skin

For starters, I let go of my purist food wagon and rolled around in the dirt, muck, mire, spices, seasoning, and bliss. As I am not one for eating fried foods, having given that up years ago to avoid my doctor shaking her head because of heightened blood pressure, I cannot say where the voice came from that requested fried chicken skin. Sure enough, that was what came to the table. Reminiscent of wafers served in Indian restaurants as appetizers, but clearly not wafers, the thin chicken skin had a smooth texture, not the bubbly, crispy coating that you see on chicken that had been swimming around in hot grease. And, no, it was nothing like the awful pork rind skins that you buy at the market or at gas stations. Brushed with Japanese mustard, garlic, and togarashi, the pescatarian in me had not one regret for polishing off the skins. I was off to the great start with just the cup of doctored-up skins and wondered what else I could request to come to the table to best the first order.

Grilled Oyster

Second to the table was another item that I have avoided for over forty years — oysters. Granted these were not the oysters that you dip in hot sauce and lemon before letting them slide down your throat, that being they were grilled oysters, they were oysters nevertheless. Grilled and accented in apple cider, sake, and tapioca, I said to myself, “Bottoms up,” and swallowed what was nothing akin to the deterrent I have seen people indulging in numerous seafood restaurants. The taste did not leap about in my mouth, but I smiled anyway now knowing that I can enjoy grilled oysters. Well, I had to admit that although this was my first experience eating oysters and finding satisfaction in it, other restaurants may send something to the table to murder my new-found love.

Eel

For my third course, I rolled my eyes about and fought the urge to stand and shout before throwing a dish on the floor. The eel with brandade, hominy, and wasabi mustard was so delicious that had I not been a prude I would have shown a side of myself in the restaurant that would have had me removed. By the third bite, I was on my cell phone looking for a recipe. I had to have more and in larger quantities. What sat before me shortly before I let out a muted whimper because I had finished it and wanted some more to savour was a tease. It was wrong. The bowl of pleasure should have been tasteless, rubbery, disgusting. But it was anything but that and I had pondered ordering the dish again. Instead, I heaved a heavy sigh and made plans to walk back to the restaurant in a few weeks for more.

Chicken Thigh

The first yakitori dish that I feasted on was chicken thigh. However, looking at it would have most rabid rural food critics arguing that I had skewered meatballs. The chicken had been prepared as meatballs with Anaheim peppers, basil, and topped with savoy cabbage. Such beautiful presentation of the three meatballs on a skewer only to be messed up with me gnashing away at the tender, succulent, addictive meat with proper etiquette. Talk about satisfying to the palate. Talk about meatballs being a thrill to the taste buds without being doused in some gravy. Talk about a recipe because I would be interested in trying this in my kitchen — at least once. By now I had conceded that I will be regular at Yusho.

Sea Urchin

And just when I thought that I could not have anything sitting before me taste better than what I had eaten already, the sea urchin changed my mind. Wrapped in a crispy pastry with nori, shiso, and Buddha’s hand, I logged on to Facebook and posted that I am indeed a food addict. The anise flavouring from the shiso gave an accent to the sea urchin that would have otherwise left the sea urchin simply palatable as opposed to its incredibly luring taste. The marriage of the shiso spice and the citrus and ginger flavouring of the Buddha’s hand had me wanting to go to the kitchen and bow before the chef. While the shiso and Buddha’s hand are perfect complements, the seasoning still allowed the sea urchin to have the spotlight. And that was fine, as I showed the urchin just how much of a star it was in my show.

Two Tribes

Now right about now is when I would write that I was done, stuffed, ready for a nap. But the portions at Yusho are taste size, which meant I was ready for more action. Rather than launching into another appetizing dish, I settled for a moment to collect my thoughts with regards to what else I would sample. While waiting a while I ordered another drink from the bar. This time I wanted to try something with a whisky base to it, recalling how much I prefer a scotch or a whiskey anyway. What to my wondering surprise should I espy a drink called Two Tribes. Concocted of redemption rye, palm sugar, cardamaro, and barrel-aged stone fruit bitters, whiskey sour and amaretto sour quickly became passé in my book. Next time I shall order the drink neat and nurse it until closing. Okay, perhaps not until closing, but I shall enjoy it in the same fashion that I enjoyed the Two Tribes this evening.

Maitake Mushroom

Having given myself a bit of a respite, I was ready to continue. Why does it sound like a hiking expedition? I have no idea, but the bowl of maitake mushrooms with egg vinaigrette and dashi gelée made the wait worthwhile. One thing I will say as a footnote is that I am not a fan of my eggs becoming Olympians and running all over the place once you get started on them. There is one other restaurant in Chicago that had changed my mind and the egg vinaigrette at Yusho has really made me completely accept that runny eggs can be a culinary magnet when seasoned delightfully. The mushrooms held their own, but once I had broken the egg and mixed it all together, my prudish sensibilities had long taken leave and I was left to enjoy every dish that came to the table without complaint.

Gobo Root

Sticking with a vegetarian option, I went down the exotic path — not that I had not been doing that all along. I had never had gobo root and wondered what it tasted like. One of the good things about being experimental and curious about certain foods — except for Chinese street food — I had decided to order something very much in a whim manner. This dish came with sesame, Asian pear slices, and persimmon. How would I describe the texture of gobo root? I would say that it is like sugar cane without the strands. How would I describe the taste? I would liken it to artichoke, but with a bit of a sweet accent to it. How would I describe my first dining experience eating gobo root? I cringed. I winced. I pouted. I wanted more and having finished the main course with the accompaniments, I was in complete happy mode because everything to this point was outstanding. You never want the moment to end.

Chicken Breast

But all good things must come to an end. For me, it came with a climax. Let me put that in perspective. The final dish was a yakitori of chicken breast with gobo root, quince, and five spice. Throughout the whole meal, everything was rising action and then a climax of succulent chicken in a sweet red berry sauce that had left me speechless. Just to see if the chicken could appeal to my taste without the sauce, I plucked a bit and sampled it alone. The chef must have known that someone like me would try to see if the chicken alone could induce a wide smile. My compliments to the chef for success. Knowing that this was my final course and it being so blooming magnificent, I savoured each bite for as long as possible.

Much like yakitori that I had in Japan, the portions are small. Street food is not to be eaten as entrées anyway, so if you go to Yusho, be forewarned that everything from the menu comes as a taste. I actually liked that, as I got a chance to sample several dishes instead of being weighted with one or two main courses. This also means that I shall have to return and try some other menu items, as well as a few that I sampled on my first visit. For such small portions and the ambience and presentation being chic, I was expecting a large tab. Much to my surprise, I was very happy with the bill. Great service, outstanding food, and a calendar entry for a return date, I walked away incredibly pleased that Yusho chose Logan Square for business. Oh, my appetite says, Thanks, too.

Yusho on Urbanspoon