While Chicagoans really got a taste of izakaya-style cooking in 2010, this May the city will get introduced to its very first Japanese BBQ bar, or kushiyaki, Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar. The River North spot teams first-time restauranteur Mike Schatzman with former Sushi Wabi exec chef Worachai Thapthimkuna, a.k.a. Chao.
The pair, who blogged about a recent monthlong R&D trip throughout Asia, hope to create a casual neighborhood spot and introduce diners to a new style of Japanese cuisine. PIcking up ideas during stops throughout Tokyo, Kyoto, Hong Kong and Bangkok, Mike and Chao discovered that while people have the idea that Japan thrives on tradition, the fact is that chefs there are incredibly innovative. While Union will serve a base of items, it'll move beyond the typical sushi and teriyaki found in many Japanese restaurants.
Union will see chefs grilling meats, seafood and vegetables on a Robata grill, a customized clay-infused grill that traps heat and cooks more evenly than a traditional grill. Diners will sit in front of the Robata (but behind a heat-resistant glass pane) watching the chefs do their thing. There will also be a high-powered hood to suck up the grease and smoke to help avoid smelling like the food the rest of the day. Schatzman said the menu will always evolve and they'll introduce different ingredients, like braised pig tail with sour greens and daikon radish.
For those a little less adventurous, Union will feature various types of sushi, including nigiri and "rice-less" rolls. On the non-sushi side of the menu, which includes the Japanese BBQ, expect to see things like Berkshire pork loin, lamp chop, foie gras, oxtail dumplings, Wagyu beef and crabcake sliders, Buffalo-style duck wings, spicy oyster shooters and more. And the 70-seat restaurant, which will be open seven
daysnights a week and eventually add dinnerlunch and brunch, will have a selection of premium sake hand-selected during Mike and Chao's trip to Japan, where they also received their level-one sake sommelier certification.
Union will have a casual vibe with a little bit of a gritty essence, giving a nod to its gallery-district location by featuring different local artists. And it'll be affordable; they're shooting for a $35 check average inclusive of one drink. "I started to discover more of Japanese cuisine and seeing things that could be improved upon," Schatzman said of the inspiration behind Union. "It's time for a new style of Japanese restaurant here."
· Mike & Chao Chow [Blog]