After stints at some of the city's bigger name sushi restaurants, a pair of brothers decided to strike out on their own at Kai Zan, which occupies a tiny sliver of real estate on the cusp of Humboldt Park and West Town.
"Some places, they Americanize it with cream cheese and different things; you can't really taste the fish itself," said Carlo Vizconde, one of the chef/owners at Kai Zan.
Vizconde and his twin brother, Melvin, make the bulk of the sushi, but they're trying to break out of the mold
"Not just spicy tuna rolls, California rolls," he said.
Instead, there's the Green Monster, a roll that utilizes thinly-sliced avocado in place of the usual nori, or seaweed wrapping. Inside, it's a combination of imitation crab and eel, plus shrimp tempura; once it's rolled up between a sheet of plastic, it's sliced into bite-sized pieces, plastic removed, and topped with enhancements such as sweet unago sauce, rich Japanese mayo and salty masago, or smelt roe.
The Orange Rush features a giant scallop sliced in two, tossed with chili oil and soy, then torched to caramelize them. The pieces of scallop are wrapped up into long sheets of salmon. Again, toppings range from wasabi mayo and unagi sauce, to ginger dressing. The pieces are torched again, then finished off with bits of scallion that are marinated in truffle oil, as well as vibrant, pickled wasabi.
Other highlights include fatty-rich hamachi belly, simply adorned with pickled wasabi; a thinly-sliced carpaccio of red snapper topped with black tobiko; plus delicate sea urchin hiding a stash of crab. In almost every case, as with the chopped octopus appetizer, the emphasis is on complexity and creativity.
"We try to make it a little creative; try to put our taste into it," Vizconde said.
If you are feeling adventurous, just ask for an omakase, or chef's tasting, and let the chefs design a menu just for you.
2557 W. Chicago Ave.