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Review Tue Jan 17 2012

Eat at Yusho

I don't know if anyone else has noticed, but it's cold out. To walk in the doors of Yusho, teeth chattering, to instantly be hugged by the warmth coming from the grill? Off to a good start.

Without a reservation, we are led to a booth, taking note of the decor as both modern and rustic, kitschy but clean -- chunky wood, right angles and chenille-upholstered seating my brother in law -- to my surprise -- swoons over for near 10 minutes. Their decor and "environment" are a vision of the wife of owner and chef Matthias Merges' (respected and seasoned chef, formerly executive chef at Charlie Trotter's), Rachel Crowl, and Julie Fisher, her partner and co-owner of FCStudio.

We decide against the cocktails in lieu of pregnant sister's requests (all for one?), though the cocktail menu is nothing to scoff at. The beverages are well-crafted and involved, and unless you're making your own myrrh bitters or frankincense tinctures at home, something you'll have to venture out to try. Among the cocktails, they also list a bevy of reds, whites, bubblies, beer and -- my favorite -- sake. Always bring more sake.

We glance at the more important side of the menu -- consisting of small yakitori ("yaki" meaning "grilled" in Japanese) style plates -- and pregnant sister takes charge. She asks her usual questions of our unsuspecting server. "If we never came back here again... what are the dishes we should try tonight?" Our server literally takes a step back. In the right place, with the right server, it should theoretically make for a pretty tasty night -- it's a good'n.

Over the few hours we spend there, between three people, we eat 17 small plates. This includes some encore acts of a dish we really dig (fried and skewered chicken skin with Japanese mustard and pickled garlic -- perfectly sized for one mouth), and once for accidental quail eggs that are brought to our table, that after we confess weren't ours, are still offered anyway... and we accept. They are served with a solid white and yolk with a mix of charred kombu (East Asian kelp), broccoli rabe and coriander.

Other highlights include the sea urchin, served with shiso (a Japanese herb, in the perilla family, the same as mint and basil) and nori wrapped Buddha's hand -- a savory taro-like root -- which is just barely fried, contrasting with the delicate texture and ocean flavors.

We also try the whole quail served over a risotto-style barley, laver seaweed and winter chestnuts. Because quail is so small, it's so easy to overcook and disappoint. This quail is, however, sweet and succulent -- still juicy from being cooked perfectly on the grill, is, to put it lightly, the culinary "bomb." The barley adds nice texture in contrast to the bird.

Lastly, we try the Logan "Poser ramen," a term coined by David Chang of Momofuku in NYC, who strongly suggests that any ramen made outside of Japan is "poser" ramen. We get it, David. But we still want more of this. It's served with a yolky hen egg, cucumber, Thai chile and a small fried disc of crispy pig's tail. In a conversation with some food lovers the other day, we came to a consensus that the best meat is usually the "meat less likely." This stands true for the pig's tail. It follows suit in Yusho style with an incredibly light fry, and then, when biting into it, you get a glimpse of sweet pulled meat, cut lightly with mustard seed. That, accompanied by a runny yolk and the crisp freshness of the cucumber add a clean bite to an otherwise rich noodle soup. The ramen is done well, overshadowed by the broth which cradles all the main components like a loving mother -- each bite filled with warmth and care, both literal and metaphorical. This was definitely not the most interesting plate on the menu (I mean, sweet breads? foie gras?), but it was certainly well-executed and made for a balanced representation of the whole experience. The ramen holds so much love and comfort, perfect for this time of year, as warm and inviting as was initially felt from the ambiance -- warm and simple, that as I am writing this, I want to go back and eat, right now.

The desserts are tasty, but the rest of the meal overshadows. In the future, I'd save room for another small plate or two, and forgo the sweet altogether.

In any case, Yusho is not to be missed, whether you're going in for a quick ramen and side plate, a full meal or just a few beers (they have a late night menu which is offered after 10 PM).

Yusho is open from 5pm to 1am every day except Sunday, when it closes at 10pm, and is located at 2853 N. Kedzie, between Diversey and George. Reservations and walk-ins are welcome.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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