Sunday, November 27, 2011

Chizakaya

Location: 3056 N Lincoln
Cost: About $25 per person

When someone asks me where they should go eat I often have trouble offering up recommendations. A lot of people don't have any criteria whatsoever and just think I'll have some magic list of restaurants serving free food with no wait that makes your taste buds scream. Mostly I just say I don't know. Well this comes into play a bit with my friend Josh when we eat out together. I had plans with him and Lonnie the other weekend, and none of us really had any preferences. My usual attempt to create some sort of pseudo criteria starts by asking someone what their favorite restaurant is. The problem is that Josh and Lonnie's favorite place is P.F. Changs (and that wasn't about to make for a good post). In times like these I then revert to this laundry list of places I have and call a whole bunch to see where we might get into the easiest. Alphabetically, Chizakaya won out with this method.

Logistics
Chizakaya serves up Japanese pub food in a medium sized store front in Lakeview. When we first walked up, we thought it was closed, but really we were just some of the only patrons at the time (and the front is pretty dimly lit). They take reservations, and we had one (but it wasn't really necessary). Street parking is also pretty easy in that part of town.

Our service was pretty key because the menu was pretty unfamiliar to us. It helped that the restaurant wasn't too busy, but the waitress took plenty of time to explain things to us. The menu has plenty of Japanese words mixed in with a mini dictionary on the back page. This proved to be a pretty freaking obnoxious way of getting the item description across.

The cost was very reasonable. Small plates ranged from $3-12, and they had bowls of ramen for around $12. Each item was just enough for the three of us to split. They also have a good selection of sake (including some flight options) for moderate prices.

Note: Thankfully the place got really busy by the time our food came. I hate that weird feeling you get when you eat in an empty restaurant.

The Food
They coursed things out for us, but I'm not sure on the structure really. So, group one of our food included Black Edamame, Wild Mushrooms, and some dish that I can best describe as Octopus Fish Balls. The edamame had an interesting, almost musty flavor, that put a twist on something I'm pretty used to getting. The mushrooms all had a nice flavor and each brought a different texture to the dish. The octopus was our least favorite dish of the night. It took us a long time to figure out what it was, and when we got it, it was moving. They had some thinly sliced topping that moved in a wave-like motion because of the residual heat from the dish (we thought it was alive at first and were kind of freaked out to try it). Really though it had a mushy texture and bland flavor.

The Black Edamame

The Wild Mushrooms

 The Octopus Fish Balls

Next we got Chicken Skin and Waygu Beef Skewers, the Short Ribs, the Fried Chicken Livers, and the Unagi Donburi (eel rice bowl). The skewers were fantastic, and if we were hungrier we would've gotten more. They were $3 an order, and I suggest if you go that you get at least one or two of these per person. The short ribs came in a large bowl that could've served five. The sauce reminded me of something that might come on swedish meatballs which was delicious once I got used to it. The meat could really have used some sort of exterior crisp. The chicken livers were my favorite item of the night. They were crispy, creamy, sweet, and savory all at the same time. I love chicken livers in general, but this may be one of my favorite presentations so far. The eel was very standard with a sauce that was sweet but not overpowering.

The Fried Chicken Livers

The Chicken Skin and Waygu Beef Skewers

The Short Ribs

 The Unagi

After that we split a bowl of Chicken Ramen. The broth had a nice spiciness to it with lots of hearty chunks of pulled chicken, but I really liked the marinated egg.

 The Chicken Ramen

Finally for dessert we ordered the Honey Toast and the Mochi Balls (I can never pronounce these correctly). The Honey Toast was very interesting. It was like a piece of slightly burnt toast topped with tres leches ice cream and a rum honey sauce. I was digging it, but I don't think Lonnie cared too much for it. The mochi were sesame flavored with a chocolate sauce. Honestly, I was expecting something like what you get from the frozen section at Trader Joes (soft dough filled with ice cream). This was more like a Japanese beignet. It was alright, but the fried dough was too dense.

The Honey Toast

The Mochi

Overall
The menu is definitely a fun one at Chizakaya, that is until you have to translate every other word. I liked the skewers and the fried chicken livers a lot (basically the items that will kill you the quickest). From there the items were a spectrum of above average to slightly disturbing. Really it boils down to a good sake menu and variety of small plates you may not have seen before. I'm giving them 3 out of 5 Pearls.


Chizakaya on Urbanspoon

4 comments:

  1. Have been wanting to get in here forever. Glad they are still busy...the initial reviews were really positive but when I walked by the other weekend early evening, they were empty and I was worried!

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