As I was piecing together my most recent trip to Chicago, I was faced with the same dilemma as always..to try new places or revisit spots I already know and love. Rocky and I didn’t have a lot of time in town and naturally wanted to make the most of our stay. One of the best moves I made while filling in the blanks was booking a dinner at the chef’s counter at Yusho. That place is effing awesome. Matthias Merges really has his shit together.
We arrived for a fairly early dinner(though we somehow ended up closing the place down anyways) and posted up by the kitchen on what may be the tallest barstools we’ve ever sat on. After a little chatting with the staff, they proposed a few different ways to go about Yusho’s somewhat spontaneous tasting menu. After I established that there was no scared business and we were here to go for the gusto, we got the party started.
Market Oysters. Two different oysters to start out. The first, from Deer Creek, Washington, was served raw and had firm body and full flavor. The second, from Prince Edward Island, was served warm with tapioca pearls.
Tuna. A tartare marinated with ponzu, yuzu, and soy served with nori, rice cracker, radish, and pine nut. The bonito-heavy tuna was a beautiful feature gracefully supported by the various accents and paired wonderfully with a smooth yamada nishiki by Kenbishi Kuromatsu.
Octopus. Tenderized baby octopus dressed with yuzu and served with enoki mushrooms, green beans, and garlic chives. Nice textures between the barely al dente tentacles, the fibrous bite of the enoki, and the crisp snap of the beans.
Chicken wing. A meaty hunk of wing flavored with bonito, lime, and thai chile. Nicely sweet, with light acid and spice.
Skin Tasting. The puffed pork skin was dusted with togarashi. The monkfish skin had a tasty underlying Atlantic brininess. The denser chicken skin was dressed with garlic, mustard, and honey. Overall these were light and crunchy in weight but had a very filling richness.
Takoyaki & Okonomiyaki (Osaka pancakes). Two savory batter treats. The first, a dumpling with peas and onions topped with roe and katsuobushi. The other, a pancake with blue prawn, caramelized eggplant, and sprouts. I think this was Rocky’s favorite savory plate. I would ask her to confirm if she wasn’t sleeping right now. Paired with a pretty cool Sauvignon Blanc from Brda.
Maitake mushroom. With frisee, dashi gelee, pickled jalapeño, and a one hour egg. This dish was almost overwhelmingly wonderful with its savoriness. The richness of the yolk and dashi melted into the warm broth alongside the sour spice of the pepper and the earthy, meaty mushrooms was an over the top great combo. Tied for my favorite course of the meal.
Seared foie gras. With strawberry coulis, mochi, and a vinaigrette made from foie fat. The sweet, gummy mochi was a fun compliment to the seared lobe. The acidic berry did well to balance the richness. Boldly and successfully paired with cocktail of White Dog Whisky, strawberry, lemon, Cocchi Americano, and creme de cassis.
Pho. Noodle soup with sprouts, a nice pork meatball, and the tear inducing ‘angry red ball’. Rocky did better with the angry ball than I did. My Midwest white boy spice tolerance couldn’t handle the heat so I ate around the red. A Krombacher Pilsner pairing helped cool off the spice.
Soy Silkie. Silkie black chicken sous vide, steamed, and fried(a shared plate; we didn’t each get a whole bird). Served with rice, orange teriyaki, caramelized kimchi, shishito pepper, and herb salad. Holy smokes. This bird was effing delicious. I went straight to work on the head, neck and toes then moved on to the meatier pieces. Sadly, I tried and died. The richness shut me down. It broke my heart to see the left over meat and skin go away.
Beef spare ribs. Cuts of beef dressed in sesame hoisin with a little thai chile served with dduk, steamed Korean rice cakes. The dduk had a superb doughy, chewy texture and was fun with the tender ribs.
Cosmo. Blood sausage and pickled cauliflower over a steamed bun with red pepper sauce. The bun, lightly sweet and doughy, with the strong iron taste of the rich sausage and the persistent but not overpowering spice and acid of the cauliflower was delightful. Really good stuff. My other favorite course of the meal. Rodenbach Flemish Sour was a neat pair for the varied contrast of the dish.
Soft serve. Hibiscus soft serve with tamarind syrup, thai basil, and sansho pepper. The ice cream had a great density. I remember asking if it was thickened with anything but have no idea what the answer was. Our bev man brought a fresh, off-sweet cocktail to match dessert: London gin, thai basil, lime, and palm sugar.
Doughnut. A silken tofu doughnut rolled in cinnamon and sugar and topped with chocolate ganache, genmaicha, and candied ginger. Nice few bites to finish up.
A great meal. The menu was creative and satisfying. The beverages our guy paired for me were spot-on, covering multiple wines, beers, sakes, and cocktails, and his enthusiasm was remarkable(I can’t remember his name but I remember him looking like a young Val Kilmer with crazy cool hair and birth control glasses). A really fun night at the kitchen counter with Chef Merges and his team.
Date of visit: June 17, 2013
Yusho. 2853 N Kedzie Avenue. Chicago, IL 773.904.8558 yusho-chicago.com