Yugen, the modern Japanese fine dining restaurant tasked with replacing acclaimed West Loop restaurant Grace, is unveiling a dual concept in the same vein as Smyth/the Loyalist. Workers have converted a space formerly used as Grace’s waiting area into a lounge that will be called Kaisho. It’s supposed to be like an informal izakaya.
Yugen chef Mari Katsumura said the restaurant and lounge will share the same modern philosophy: They’re making modern Japanese food with Midwestern ingredients and an avant-garde presentation. Daily specials include a tonkatsu ramen featuring a raviolo made with toasted rye ramen noodle dough. Katsumura wants to serve restaurant workers leaving their late-night shifts. The menu is meant to satisfy customers with different budgets. They will serve its version of a wagyu cutlet sandwich, the item popularized by Tokyo’s Wagyumafia. The sando will cost at least $100 and served in between milk bread that gives the sandwich a buttery taste to surround the rich and breaded A5 wagyu. Katsumura will give the sandwich a Chicago twist with giardiniera, the fiery condiment served with Chicago-style Italian beef and sausages.
“It’s a shoutout to Chicago, 100 percent,” said Katsumura.
Other daily specials are yakitori, chicken karaage, and tempura. Kaisho will also serve Japanese bar mix to pair well with drinks including a Japanese-style Chex mix, scallop or beef tartare, and takoyaki. Katsumura worked as pastry chef at Entente and Gideon Sweet, so sweets are naturally part of the restaurant. There’s a tea and rice dessert with coconut, raspberry mousse, and toasted rice. There’s also a spin on milk and cookies using cookie puree, caramelized milk, and meringue.
“I really think that people will go in expecting one thing and they’ll leave with a completely different idea of what lounge eating is,” Katsumura said.
Yugen has hired Olivia Noren has beverage director. She worked at Le Bernadin in New York. Noren said that Kaisho’s drinks will hover around $15 each. Noren wants daily drink specials that mirror the food specials. For example, Friday will be champagne night showcasing special pours by the glass. They’ll also have an extensive selection of spirit-free drinks. Noren wants to create a place where customers can drop in without a reservation and still enjoy an elevated experience.
The drinks are classic cocktails with twists. They’ll use tea infusions, Suntory whisky infused with dates, and demerara syrup made with black sugar from Okinawa, Japan. And don’t expect over-the-top presentations made to attract Instagram users to the bar. Noren is actually focusing on the drinks’ taste.
“We can absolutely make you a margarita, we’re hospitable in terms of that — but if you want to try something different, we have a play on a marg for that,” Noren said.
Kaisho translates to “meeting place.” There’s still no opening date announced for Yugen and Kaisho. Come back for more and check out the sample drink and food menus below.