Yusho offers creative, no-sushi menu

January 21, 2012 8:30:50 PM PST
There's been a wave of new Japanese restaurants in the city, yet one of the most talked about doesn't even offer sushi, and is run by a swede.

The Hungry Hound says it's noteworthy, however, because of that chef's background.

What do you do after a quarter-century in fine-dining? If you're Matthias Merges, who just stepped down after spending the last 14 years of his life at Charlie Trotter's, you go Japanese. But it's not what you're thinking, because at Yusho, which occupies a small storefront in Logan Square, the vibe is definitely urban with a more refined - and some would say - more creative approach.

"It was very important to me to keep my creativity going and to really push myself to think of things differently. And to do something that's a little closer to my heart and my wife's heart," said Merges.

Not only no maki rolls, no sushi whatsoever. Think grilled items. Some, like baby leeks, meatballs and chicken skin are cooked over high-heat Japanese binchotan charcoal, resulting in blistered exteriors. Others, like the deboned and stuffed chicken wings or pork belly, are cooked over gas.

"You have super high heat, you seal in flavors, it reacts differently to different proteins and vegetables, so we have three different grills," said Merges

Those leeks are coated in a miso puree with caramelized onions, salty marcona almonds and crispy shallots, while calamari holds pickled jalapenos for mild heat and fresh watercress; beef tongue is paired with crunchy daikon radish and spicy sambal, while chicken skin has an artful (and tasty) garnish of beer mustard with both pickled and fried garlic.

"Liver, tongue, skin?I think that's something that, when I was a kid, I would always get reprimanded by my mom for tearing off the turkey skin before Thanksgiving, and here we use chicken skin," Merges said.

Fried chicken is dusted with matcha green tea powder, served with a kanzuri dipping sauce of salted chilies and mayo; takoyaki is a dumpling of sorts, containing salmon roe, and topped with dried shavings of bonito, or skipjack tuna.

Even dessert is out-of-the-ordinary: vanilla soft serve with a Japanese trifecta of sesame, ginger and crushed seaweed.

"...But still have those little flare, those little nuances that speak to what Japan is about and the philosophy of food and the sensibility of food," he said.

Now Yusho is not your typical Japanese restaurant in Chicago. As Merges said, there's no sushi, no maki rolls here, and this dessert is a great example of that: how often would you see vanilla soft serve, covered in crystallized ginger, black sesame, seaweed and buckwheat caramel? Probably never.

They also have a late-night menu that runs from 10 p.m. until 1 a.m., Friday through Monday.

2853 N Kedzie Ave