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A Critic Gives Chicago’s First Okonomiyaki Restaurant High Marks

Plus fine dining newcomer Claudia is a blend of “precision and whimsy,” and more reviews

Okonomiyaki brushed with sauce on a black plate.
Savory Japanese pancakes are a hit in the West Loop.
Nick Fochtman/Eater Chicago

Nick Kindelsperger is thoroughly impressed by Chicago’s first okonomiyaki restaurant, Gaijin. Though chef Paul Virant isn’t Japanese, he honors okonomiyaki — griddled savory pancakes — with faithful and excellent versions of the dish. Each one starts with a base made of eggs, cabbage, and grated nagaimo. Meats, seafood, and veggies are then added and the whole thing is finished off with mayo, okonomiyaki sauce, and bonito flakes. The resulting bites are “warm and creamy, savory and slightly sweet.” Gaijin’s menu offers several variants: Tempura-fried shrimp “provides a nice textural contrast to the soft base” while tender octopus “arrives drizzled with hot sauce and honey gastrique.” And since they’re “about as wide as a Neapolitan pizza and three times as thick,” they make for a “hearty and surprisingly affordable option for this pricey stretch of the West Loop.”

“Also worth trying is the crunchy beef korokke,” croquettes filled with “hearty and aromatic” Japanese-style curry, and the crudité plate with “artfully cut vegetables” and shiro-miso dip. Desserts star kakigori, shaved ice atop house-made ice cream. Kindelsperger’s favorite one, gaijin, features gooey butter cake ice cream with caramelized apples and cider syrup. And on the beverage side, there’s an “impressive” sake menu and selection of highball cocktails. [Tribune]

Claudia is “one of the most exciting new spots in Chicago,” writes Jeff Ruby. The former fine dining pop-up has found a new home in the West Loop for chef Trevor Teich to showcase his skills. A fussy-sounding dish called “Snails in the Woods” — crunchy snails with truffles, pine meringues, nasturtium leaves, flowers, and spongy green moss — “hit[s] so many pleasurable notes that the brain’s cynicism circuits get shorted.” Canapes served in a bento box are a “sunken treasure” and include a caviar-topped potato beignet that “dissolve[s] on the tongue like a briny cloud,” while dessert presents a jaw-dropping combination of braised apple slices, bacon ice cream crumbles, and a tower of fresh chevre. Ruby’s main complaint is with the space. An LED bubble infinity wall makes the room “too bright,” the “New Agey music [is] a touch too loud,” and overall it just feels “cold, both aesthetically and literally.” But despite never coalescing with its environment, the food is still exceptional and worth the minor trade-offs. [Chicago]

The second part of Crain’s Time Out Market review highlights more hits and misses. Joanne Trestrail says Abe Conlon’s chickpea soup is a “robust bowlful of winter-appropriate goodness,” while Bill Kim’s katsu udon soup “comes chock full o’ noodles, mushrooms, and crisp-breaded katsu chicken in a tasty pho broth.” Thai Dang’s “stellar Vietnamese dishes” include a “gorgeously golden” coconut-milk vegetable curry with steamed rice that “could easily become a habit,” and “masterful” supersized chicken wings encased in sticky rice and fried with caramelized fish sauce and dried chilies. Other items “get lost in blizzards of ingredients,” such as Duck Inn Dogs’ beef-and-duck hot dog that’s “topped with so many photogenic fixings, you’re surprised to encounter a wiener under them.” [Crain’s]

Time Out Market Chicago

916 West Fulton Market, , IL 60607 (312) 637-3888 Visit Website

Claudia

1952 N. Damen Avenue, Chicago, IL Visit Website

Gaijin

950 West Lake Street, , IL 60607 (312) 265-1348 Visit Website

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