Kitsune specializes in Japanese cuisine with Midwestern ingredients

CHICAGO (WLS) -- There are plenty of Japanese restaurants in Chicago, most of which focus on either sushi or ramen. But a new restaurant looks to Japan as an influence, and combines some traditional cooking techniques with our abundant Midwest pantry.

Kitsune has been busy since it opened about a month ago, in a tiny, triangle-shaped building in North Center. It's focus? Thoughtful plates of Japanese food, influenced by Midwestern ingredients and seasons.

"Just really kind of discovering the nuances of the flavors from that and using the most seasonal things we can," said Chef and Owner Iliana Regan.

Regan spends a fair amount of time in the basement, burying vegetables to transform them.

"So those are buried in rice bran. We toast it with a little bit of sake and season it with kombu and then we bury those, the rice bran, the yeast in that feeds off the sugars and they essentially take about a day and they pickle," she said.

You'd expect to see pickles on a Japanese menu, but bread?

"We wanted it to be a mix of some things that were traditional, some things that were inspiration...and so what we did was make a koji porridge and we incorporate that into the bread," she said.

So Japanese technique with Midwestern flour. The A5 Wagyu is as Japanese as you can get. The fatty-rich block is seared in a hot skillet, dusted with some dashi powder, then sliced and plated with a mushroom miso paste. A pure expression of Osaka arrives in the form of okonomiyaki - a cabbage pancake that's garnished traditionally, with some kewpie mayo, some sweet okonomiyaki sauce and some finely-shredded whisps of katsuobushi, the ever-present smoked and dried tuna you see all over a Japanese kitchen.

"But again we're incorporating our winter vegetables, so we have a little bit of leek and cabbage and bok choy right now," Regan said.

So Kitsune is not 100% Japanese authentic. There are clearly Midwestern influences here, and that means there are things that tie those two cultures together - mainly, fermentation and pickling.

In this week's online only Extra Course, Steve Dolinsky talks about one of the restaurant's truly unique donuts, made with a Japanese whiskey glaze.

4229 N. Lincoln Ave.
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