Japanese food in Chicago is usually divided into one of two camps: sushi and ramen. But NBC 5’s Food Guy Steve Dolinsky has a couple of other treats in mind, as he wraps up his month-long look at some of his favorite Asian dishes.
Gaijin is tucked away beneath the Morgan Street green line stop in the West Loop; the brainchild of Chef Paul Virant, whose wife lived in Osaka, and convinced him to open the first okonomiyaki shop in Chicago.
“It’s a savory cabbage pancake; ‘okonomi’ means ‘have it your way’ or ‘how you like it’ and ‘yaki’ is ‘griddled’ or ‘grilled’” he explained. “The Osaka which is the original style, that’s a batter that consists of wheat flour, dashi, mountain yam or nagaimo, egg, scallions, pickled ginger, cabbage all mixed together then griddled.”
Once cooked through on both sides, they’re brushed with a Japanese okonomiyaki sauce and a healthy drizzle of Kewpie mayo, plus a shower of dried seaweed and a handful of bonito – the classic smoked-and-dried tuna used throughout the Japanese kitchen. Another option: Hiroshima style.
“Similar ingredients but it’s layered with the addition of the yakisoba noodles,” he said.
Eggs are cracked two feet above the griddle so they spread out, providing a base for the layered pancake, which, when finished, gets the same okonomiyaki sauce-mayo-bonito trifecta.
How about dessert?
“Kakigori is Japanese shaved ice,” Virant added. “All of our kakigoris are embedded with some flavor of ice cream in the middle, garnished with some type of a syrup.”
A very different dessert situation in the Chinatown Square Mall at Kyo Matcha, a franchise of an East Coast chain, serving Kyoto’s beloved matcha tea in several forms.
“Kyoto in Japan is the most well-known for the most high-quality tea leaf from there. Matcha chocolate, matcha ice cream…” said JoJo Chen of Kyo Matcha.
Soft serve actually; great on its own or with add-ons like sweet red beans or crunchies.
Not just any layer cake, but a painstakingly built 25-layer affair assembled back in the kitchen. A “towel cake” which gets its name from its shape; in this case, the hue is a result of purple ube powder. Also, a rich milk cap cake doused in heavy cream and tapioca pearls.
“Everything is all hand-crafted, it’s all made on a daily basis.”
Here’s where you can go:
950 W. Lake St.
2167 S. China Place
100 E. Algonquin Rd., Arlington Heights