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West Loop’s Highly Anticipated Cocktail Destination Impresses a Critic

Plus critics are impressed by Grace’s replacement

A colorful plated dish.
Yugen’s creative Japanese dishes impressed a critic.

“Everything at Kumiko, whether borne of experience or experimentation, is a deliberate intensive distillation,” writes Michael Nagrant. The a la carte menu has eight choices and each one is “perfect, and also, in many cases, as intricate and worthy of the Michelin two-star offering” at Oriole. Tempura-crusted prawns give way to a “harmonious burst of sugar, brine, citrus, and cream” while the short rib is “supremely luscious and eats more like the tail of a filet mignon than shards of pot roast.” For dessert, milk bread draped in truffle shavings is “Japan’s definitively superior answer to French toast, coddled in a quenelle of fermented honey ice cream.”

The omakase menu offers a fixed food menu and dealer’s choice cocktails tailored to personal preferences. “The early progression of maki and sashimi served with supple nori, pristine fish, and toothsome grains of maybe the best sushi rice [Nagrant’s] had in Chicago” is better than anything at Kyoten, and A5 wagu is “so tender, it dissolves like a Fanny May Mint Meltaway.” Drinks include a first-rate selection of sake and a hot chocolate, featuring Rhine Hall Bierschnapps, that tastes like shoving one’s head in a cacao coaster. The Kumiko team has “looked at the elements of design, hospitality, food, and drink, and kept polishing, refining, and stripping away, no matter the cost, until [it] found the perfect mix.” [Michael Nagrant]

Yugen is off to a promising start and might one day hang with the city’s best restaurants. Phil Vettel praises Mari Katsumura’s “impressive” tasting menus and awards it three stars. The “opening salvo dazzles,” consisting of “imaginative canapes” like crab motoyaki topped with osetra caviar, and a “seriously upscale” beef jerky. The crab rice — a soy-cured egg yolk surrounded by foamy uni butter, king crab, furikake, kogi rice, puffed grains, and salmon roe — is “Yugen’s top plate for now” while a “lovely composition” of duck breast and lamb saddle is punctuated with fermented-pistachio miso, compressed persimmon, and a fermented vegetable condiment. Desserts are “delightful” and include a “surprise package” of milk and cookies made with chocolate puree, dolce de leche ice cream, buttermilk mousse, and meringue. [Tribune]

“There is simply nothing like Yugen in Chicago” according to Ariel Cheung. Executive chef Mari Katsumura “incorporates Japanese flavors and ingredients in upscale renditions that nevertheless remain approachable and easy to love.” Miso soup is “silky and light,” with yuzu-coated edamame and puffed rice crisps “[cutting] through the softness of the broth.” Crab rice offers “bold, funky, salty flavors gleaned from egg yolk, roe and puffed grains.” And beef cheek in a Japanese curry “reaches the depths of your soul.” Desserts star a sculptural Milk and Cookies that’s “almost too pretty to deconstruct.” while beverage pairings include a cucumber-scented, strawberry-laced Laurent Perrier cuvée rosé brut and an assortment of sake options.

Cheung also reviews Eleven Eleven and says it offers an “unpretentious menu that delivers where it counts.” The replacement for shuttered West Loop restaurant Honey’s is “warmer, visually, than its predecessor” and “meant to feel like an old friend.” A “deceptively simply” shaved fennel Caesar, dusted with flakes of Grana Padano cheese and sourdough crumble, is “hugely satisfying” while duck confit cavatelli is highlighted by “smoky pepper oil mingling with preserved orange and meaty bites of duck.” Among entrees, seared fjord trout is complemented with ever-changing accoutrements like shishito peppers, miso béarnaise, smoked maitakes, and spiced eggplant. And for the sweet finish, apple tart tatin features “irresistibly caramelized apples and chocolate-malted pepitas” with a scoop of sarsaparilla ice cream on top. [Modern Luxury]

Mike Sula checks out two northern Chinese barbecue spots, Friend BBQ and Gao’s Kabob Sports Grill. Meaty skewers are the specialty, and Gao’s “seems a bit more open to offering the off bits” like grilled lamb feet. There are “lots of parts to explore, from ruddy pork riblets to suckered squid tentacle tips to scored cocktail sausages.” At Friend, chewy chicken skin and glistening pork belly wrapped in enoki are winners. Either way, both restaurants “achieve a similar communality that scratches primal itches, if not other hard-to-reach places.” [Reader]

Jeff Ruby checks out iconic Italian Village and has a mostly positive experience. The longstanding venue houses three separate restaurants, each with varying levels of success. Downstairs in the basement, La Cantina “feels dusty and slapdash.” The bread is “stale,” the fettuccine is “gloppy,” and a “tired-looking” antipasto plate feels like “the kind of lowbrow platter [Ruby’s] mom would have hastily assembled for a graduation party in 1983.”

Things are much better at the Village, where chef José Torres “hit[s] the mark more often.” The toato sauce manages to “strike the sugar-acid equilibrium that eludes many pomodoros” while the chicken rotolini sits in a “punchy” mushroom-sherry sauce. And a prime steak sandwich with caramelized onions and melted mozzarella is “no frills, all flavor.”

The clear standout, though, is contemporary eatery Vivere. Emily Phillip’s dishes are “precise, often winkingly clever.” The flavors on grilled octopus, dressed in port wine and nestled with purple potatoes on purple garlic aioli, “bounce and snap.” Pan-seared, oven-roasted black cod flakes off in “buttery hunks between a chunky tapenade and a soft layer of red quinoa with toasted pine nuts.” Overall, Italian Village is “in a good place” and Ruby thinks Vivere “could take its place among Chicago’s best Italian restaurants if Phillips is in for the long haul.” [Chicago]

Yugen

652 W. Randolph Street, Chicago, IL Visit Website

Italian Village

71 West Monroe Street, , IL 60603 (312) 332-7005 Visit Website

Eleven Eleven

1111 W Lake Street, Chicago, IL 60607 +1 312-248-8942 Visit Website

Kumiko

630 West Lake Street, , IL 60661 (312) 285-2912 Visit Website

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