Michael Nagrant thinks Yugen is a long ways off from Michelin stardom but still calls it an “above average restaurant.” Nagrant rips Grace’s replacement. A tempura-swaddled oyster sitting in a creamy mound surrounded by fried seaweed looks like “the funeral of SpongeBob SquarePants, his spongy carcass surrounded by kelp friends who cried so many tears, they’d dried out.” Another dish, “crab rice,” features a “miniscule quarter-sized finger” of meat with an “oversalted” yolk and furikake grains “which look like fried meal worm” swimming in uni butter. A5 Miyazaki shabu shabu is “overcooked, barely pink, and oozes a glossy pearlescent puss of fat cap.” The “only perfect dish” of the evening is a chawanmushi with uni, foie gras, and Asian pear.
Desserts don’t fare any better. Cheesecake sports a roof of bruleed, slivered apple but the torching leaves it “grainy like cottage cheese.” Canele is also “The Rock’s abs-hard outside, and goopy inside.” The beverage program is three stars and highlighted by a Venido de los Vientas Alcyone, “one of the most intoxicating dessert wines [Nagrant’s] slurped down.” However, service is lackluster, with staff “peering past you with empty eyes, like the military sentries at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.” If chef Mari Katsumura’s dishes “were as fully realized and executed” like her efforts at Entente. “Yugen would be one of Chicago’s best restaurants.” Yugen wasn’t worth the $766.31 for two. [Michael Nagrant]
Virtue “captures the depth and scope of Southern cooking with soul-satisfying results,” writes Maggie Hennessy. The Hyde Park restaurant from Erick Williams is a winner on all fronts, from the food and drinks to the design and service. A charcuterie board offers peppery turkey rillettes, “robust” head cheese, and “unctuous” terrines, while fried green tomatoes are accompanied by “succulent” shrimp wrapped in tarragon-tinted remoulade. “Fatty, crisp-edged” brisket is “perfectly braised” but the catfish is the real showstopper, its “mildly sweet” flesh harmonizing with barbecue carrots and Carolina gold rice. And for dessert, coconut cream pie is a “tropical-scented cloud.” All in all, Virtue is an excellent experience that “surpasses lofty expectations with satiating, enlightened Southern cooking.” [Time Out]
Phil Vettel explores the city’s three new omakase restaurants. At Kyoten, Texas transplant Otto Phan aims high and delivers “the best sushi experience in Chicago.” Octopus tossed with torched avocado and ponzu is a “revelation,” as is Alabama red shrimp. Spanish mackeral is aged two weeks and lightly grilled, while the uni is “the best [Vettel’s] ever tasted.”
Omakase Takeya is a less-expensive outing but there are highlights nonetheless. Golden eye snapper nigiri, topped with caviar, is followed by a “rich and unctuous” piece of stripejack mackeral. A three-dish kaiseki platter includes an “appealingly smoky” madai sashimi, while uni with salmon roe over a bed of rice is an “umami bomb.” A la carte extras are not as successful: Vettel orders cuttlefish that arrives “tough as a tire.”
Finally, Omakase Yume offers “quality, complexity and innovation for nearly $100 less” than Kyoten. Fluke with a dab of kimchi, and madai with grated daikon are “bold” pieces of nigiri. Sweet shrimp “has its delicacy countered” by fermented shrimp brains while miso black cod’s golden color and seared edges “make the dish noteworthy.” Likewise, “execution and flavor save the day” on eel with sweet ponzu. To finish, there’s a “very good dessert” of panna cotta with matcha powder and red beans. [Tribune]
Two new barbecue spots are reinvigorating smoked meats on the South Side. At Slab BBQ, ribs are “robustly smoky and markedly tender right off the smoker” according to Mike Sula. They’re best enjoyed right away, when they “offer a direct hit to the pleasure centers.” The hot links are also “snappy and bite back with considerable chile heat.” Over in Chatham, Full Slab’s ribs are “meatier, less rendered, and a bit chewier.” Unlike its counterpart, “they have staying power and actually emerge improved after a period of refrigeration.” Regardless of preference, though, “both stand out amid the citywide scrum.” [Reader]