Katsu – 2651 Peterson Avenue – Chicago, IL
So Sara and I made it to 2 months! And we’re still in love, after celebrating our real 2 month anniversary by cooking a wonderful meal of jja jjang myun and sous vide duck breast at home (yes, kind of all over the place), we decided to really kick it up and head up north to Katsu for some sushi.
Katsu may not be on your radar, and it’s sometimes hard to convince a city-dweller to head so far north for something that you can pretty much find every few blocks now – the first time we went, we are also dubiously skeptical. But hands down, Katsu is the best sushi in Chicago. It’s been a staple up north for close to 30 years now, and chef Katsu himself, approaching 70 soon, fully admits he’s not slowing down – he’s a great personable guide to your sushi journey when you sit at the sushi bar. Which we did, next to a nice gentleman who had just celebrated his 50th anniverssary – so Sara and I have a bit of work to do…
But back to the food, if you ask Zagat what the highest rated restaurant for food is in Chicago, Katsu is at the top, in the elite group of restaurants rated 29, such as the Achatz/Kokonas duo Alinea and Next, as well as Goosefoot (Vie and Bien Trucha are also 29’s but out in the burbs). Having been to all four of those, I’d give Alinea the nod over Katsu, but I’d be willing to say that Katsu bests both Goosefoot and Next on the food-front. The best way to describe it would be to see the movie “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” – now Katsu is probably no Jiro, and I’d be willing to bet that the sushi in Tokyo is a step above what we’re getting here, but it’s the closest thing you’ll get in Chicago to a sushi chef who cares about his craft as much as chef Katsu does.
If you go, I’d recommend getting a spot at the sushi bar – that’s what we did, getting the slightly cheaper (still $120) four course sushi omakase (there’s a similar priced sashimi omakase). There is a $160 six course meal that adds in the chawanmushi dish that we split, along with both the sushi / sashimi plates.
We started with our waiter’s recommendation – a mackerel appetizer with unbelievably buttery, soft, finely chopped mackerel mixed with sliced scallions and minced ginger, a bunch of shredded daikon for a bit of refreshment. A nice palate cleanser before the extravaganza set the stage for what was to come. The presentation, like most dishes here, was stunning.
For the first course of the omakase, you get a choice of the tuna tartare or the monkfish liver – thankfully, since there’s two of us, we were able to split one of each. The monkfish liver, soft and creamy in texture like a rich foie was served around beautiful rods of shiso jelly and topped with minced radish. The tuna tartare is made from finely chopped toro, the mixed in quail egg just adding to the richness.
The next dish is Japanese comfort food at its best. A perfectly soft almost poached flounder filet with a soft moist breadiness on the “crust”, served in a lightly lemon-tinged broth thick broth. One of the more memorable dishes here – simple but perfeclty executed.
The tempura here is probably the least unique part of the meal here at Katsu, but it’s still a solid plate of lightly battered and fried vegetables. What makes the tempura at Katsu different though is the choices and the freshness of the vegetables is clearly evident through the crispness. Choices that night were enoki mushroom, lotus root, a fairly spicy shishito pepper, squash blossom(!), shiso leaf, purslane, and a filet of Japanese whitefish (accompanied by a nice little sheet explaining what purslane is and the proposed health benefits of it).
Back to Japanese comfort food, I felt like I had to try the chawanmushi here, and it did not disappoint. A perfectly soft egg custard, nice texture, with a healthy portion of unagi cooked underneath, along with a few pieces of edamame and mushrooms, all mixing to give this dish a great mix of textures and flavors.
Finally, we get to the highlight of the meal – the nigiri course! 15 gorgeous pieces of a wide selection of the freshest fish you’ll probably find in the Chicagoland area and possibly the midwest. Most of the pieces are garnished with an ingredient that complements the bite well and each piece is an extremely generous portion that makes it fairly difficult to take each down in one bite.
As instructed by Chef Katsu we started with the oyster, a kumamoto oyster from the Pacific Northwest, BC I believe. After that we went straight from left to right.
Fresh yellowtail flown in directly from Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, King salmon from Boston, topped with salmon roe and gold leaf, crisp, refreshing super white toro from Maine, topped with winter truffle, a creamy buttery squid.
Then, Sara’s favorite – sweet shrimp, also from Boston, with a massive fried Shrimp head (not quite as meaty as the one we had a few weeks ago at Kai Zan). More ground toro followed amazingly fresh uni from Seattle, leaving the scallop, and the finale, a mackerel with a thinly shaved piece of seaweed that tempered the fishiness of the mackerel perfectly.
Katsu’s a bit of a hike up in Lincolnwood for us folks that live downtown, but in the end, a half hour drive is not that far travel for exceptional sushi. The cost is a bit steep, so it’s definitely more of a special occasion spot, but cost is on par with most of the non-Alinea finer restaurants in the city, and you could definitely have a reasonably sized smaller meal off the omakase for under $100. A 5 star experience all around.