There are not that many Japanese restaurants grilling beef cheek, squid tentacles and octopus on skewers, but then again, there are not that many izakayas in town, either. Chizakaya in Lakeview is attempting to change that.
"Typically in an izakaya, it's food that goes really well with beer. So the fried items, the grilled items. A lot of acidity, good amount of saltiness to it," said Chef Harold Jurado of Chizakaya.
Don't come expecting spicy tuna rolls here. Fish instead might show up as thinly-slice hamachi accented by cooked knobs of bone marrow, dressed up with some fresh daikon sprouts and crunchy fried garlic. Shrimp is tempura fried, but rather than dumped in the usual bowl of udon, here, it's paired with grated ginger and daikon radish, then served with cold - almost refreshing - soba noodles, dotted with scallions and sesame seeds.
"Every time I see pictures, or when I've gone to izakayas, we always order a lot of plates. Just, people are picking. People take their time to eat, take their time to talk, you know, take their time to enjoy everybody's company," Jurado said.
House-made tofu is silky and smooth, given plenty of flavor boost in the form of ginger and garlic oil, plus two types of soy sauce and finely-chopped radish and scallions. Food is certainly one aspect of the izakaya, but drink is definitely an equal partner. This is the only place in town you find the large-format Azumaichi sake, among many other premium labels.
"Wanted it to be approachable no matter what we had. I really wanted for the staff to be able to execute the service and to be able to speak about the sakes with knowledge and confidence is, I think, where a lot of restaurants or izakayas can fall short," said Chantelle Pabros, who consulted on Chizakaya's sake program.
Beers are also important, but the thing Pabros has kept in mind is that the alcohol really needs to complement the plates of small food.
"The essense of an izakaya kind of started as a drinking establishment, or a place where you could have a sake and actually sit down and drink sake, and then it evolved to a place that offered food that was better than bars," Pabros said.
Now the fun part about eating at an izakaya is that you can get lots of different plates to share with your friends, and if you're like me, you can taste a little bit of everything.
3056 N. Lincoln Ave.
1176 S. Elmhurst Rd., Mt. Prospect