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A Critic Thinks the Food at Chicago’s First Okonomiyaki Restaurant Is ‘Almost Perfect’

Plus, more strong reviews for Claudia and Tzuco

A savory Japanese pancake on a plate with a variety of toppings.
Gaijin’s savory Japanese pancakes have more critical acclaim.
Nick Fochtman/Eater Chicago

Chicago’s first okonomiyaki restaurant delivers “killer food in a casual tavern-style atmosphere” according to Michael Nagrant. Although Gaijin isn’t a traditional Japanese experience, it is “classic Japanese ideas refracted through the hazy Malort-tinged Midwestern foodway-obsessed lens” of chef Paul Virant. Pork yakisoba is a “tangle of glorious gluten”; noodles swaddle cubes of Slagel Family Farms pork that “yield to the tooth like the finest Kobe beef.” The okonomiyaki starts with an omelet-like base, which is “cloud-like at the edges featuring a savory cream custard curd inside.” Variants include tempura shrimp with sweet corn; octopus with hot sauce and a honey gastrique; and “silky” braised beef with roast garlic. To finish, Gaijin’s eponymous kakigori features cider-spiced shaved ice tossed with caramelized apples over a cinnamon-gooey buttercake ice cream center. And despite a glass of wine that “tastes like Champagne vinegar spiked with cat piss,” service turns out to be “convivial, complimentary and responsive.” Overall, Nagrant says Gaijin’s food is “almost perfect” and it’s the type of place that warrants repeat visits. [Michael Nagrant]

Claudia is an excellent fine dining restaurant with “big aspirations,” writes Phil Vettel. Chef Trevor Teich’s “immense talent” was first on display at pop-up dinners, but has since moved to a more permanent location in the West Loop. His 10-course menu starts with bites like tuna-wrapped foie gras topped with fermented ponzu, as well as a potato-caviar beignet. A dish called “Snails in the Woods” comes with “plump and tasty” deep fried snails, pine-flavored meringue, fine herbs puree, torn pieces of bread, and shaved Perigord truffle. A lobster course features a round sheet of pickled butternut squash over lobster meat brushed with brown butter, vanilla, and star anise, while “pot au pho” is an intermezzo of poached apple, goat cheese meringue, and bacon and crème fraiche ice creams that “you have to see to believe.” Alcohol is BYO and service is “polished and professional, with enough good humor and cheer to take stuffiness completely out of the equation.” [Tribune]

Tzuco is an “ambitious comeback restaurant” from Carlos Gaytán that delivers “bold, heartfelt and unfailingly delicious” dishes. What makes the food stand out, though, is that it’s “grounded by personal influences, often stemming from [Gaytán’s] mom’s home cooking.” Each bite “seem[s] to smack of deeper meaning” and Maggie Hennessy says “you can almost taste pure, cold Pacific Ocean” in the ceviche verde, which features hamachi paired with cactus that’s prepared three ways and mint, lime, and serrano chile. An octopus tentacle is boiled and then grilled until “singed outside with a lush, almost creamy interior.” Served alongside a puck of cubed carrots, peas, and potatoes dressed in tuna aioli, it “conjures reimagined TV dinner nostalgia.” Among the main entrees, slow-roasted pork pibil arrives on a “Flintstone-sized shank bone” with corn tortillas and habanero-pickled onions so that diners can build their own tacos, while dessert stars an airy hazelnut sponge cake complemented with “addictive caramel ice cream and dabs of bitter chocolate.” [Time Out]


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