Sunday, May 15, 2016

Kai Zan

While I really like sushi and have been to many sushi restaurants, somehow, I have not managed to do an Omakase menu.  Omakase basically translates to Chef's choice and it the sushi equivalent to a Chef's Tasting menu at a fine dining restaurant.  I recently read an article listing Chicago's best and most affordable Omakase menus and I happened to notice that a restaurant that has been on my radar for a while, Kai Zan, was on the list.  I decided quickly, that it must move up my list so I could try the Omakase.  The restaurant is a small place with the bar on one side and booths on the other and it was pretty busy when I came, but they were able to seat me and at the bar, although I was told that my window was a little limited because they would need the seat for a reservation in 50 minutes.  I agreed to this and while I never felt rushed even after I went slightly past the time for the reservation, courses did come pretty quickly.   The next time I go, I will plan on making a reservation.  My position at the bar afforded me a great view of the action in the kitchen and there was a lot of action in the kitchen.  While the Omakase is listed on the regular menu, what is on it or even how many courses, is not.  If you order the Omakase, they will bring you a printed menu to keep before anything arrives.  I am not sure if it was a factor of time, but while I did receive everything on the menu, the first several courses were out of order.  It wasn't a huge issue though it was slightly confusing to try to keep track.  The first course to come out was actually the second course on the menu, Escolar and Maguro Pearls which consisted of Seared Tuna and Escolar, Sushi Rice, Spicy Mayo, Truffle Oil, and Scallions.  The course was served on a long plate with pickled ginger and wasabi on the side as were many of the fish plates.  While many people think of sushi as raw fish, many of the courses were at least seared.  While the two fish were served with the same accompaniments, they had very different flavors, the lighter colored escolar having a buttery flavor and the tuna tasting like tuna.  While the course was officially the second course, it fit well as a first course, introducing the diner to the flavors and styles that they would be experiencing.  It was very good and I really enjoyed it.
The second course served which was the first one on the menu was called Madai Carpaccio.  As might be expected from a dish called carpaccio, it was very thinly sliced and served with olive oil and greens.  In this case, it was Japanese Red Snapper with Basil, Toro (Bluefin Tuna Belly), Black Tobiko (Flying Fish Roe), and Olive Oil.  It was very delicate and flavorful and also served on a long narrow plate.  I will say here that while I am sure that silverware could be had if you asked, it was not automatically given to diners and the only dining implement provided for the sushi were chopsticks.  I will admit that while I can use chopsticks, I am not an expert with them, and the carpaccio was harder to eat with chopsticks than was the first course which had a regular shape and something to hold onto with the sushi rice.
The third course that showed up was actually the fourth course on the menu.  Called Angry Crab, it was Spicy Crab wrapped in Tuna with Tempura Crunch and topped with Spicy Mayo.  This was a one bite wonder with a variety of flavors and textures.  It was spicy and sweet with a nice beginning crunch and a good firm texture.
The next course were Shooters and while they didn't look exceptionally appetizing, I like them.  I was served one Oyster and one Scallop Shooter both of which were prepared the same way, with a Quail Egg, Tabasco, Scallions, and Black Tobiko in Ponzu Sauce.  Ponzu is a thin citrus-based sauce that essentially works the same way that the citrus in ceviche works, it tenderizes the seafood.  A shooter is supposed be swallowed like a shot, slamming it down, although it is possible to chew whatever shellfish is in the glass.  I generally will give it a minimal chew before swallowing it.  The shooters were very tart and the seafood was tender, but chewable.  The quail egg provided a depth of flavor and the Tabasco added a spicy finish.  The tobiko were salty and texturally similar to tapioca.
The rest of the courses that followed came in the correct order according to the written menu.  The next course was called Orange Rush and was a lightly seared Scallop wrapped in a lightly seared Salmon with a Citrus Glaze served on a Scallop Shell.  This was another one bite wonder that was as fun to eat as it was good looking.  It was tender and flavorful with a nice and tart finish.
The next course confused me a little with its placement within the meal although it was good.  It was a Tuna Dashi which was Dashi Broth with Shiitake Mushrooms, Little Neck Clams, Nori, Sesame, and a Tuna Skewer.  It was good and very flavorful,the mushrooms were plentiful, and the clams were like little bonus bites in the bottom of the bowl.  The tuna was tender and the flavor paired well with the dashi.  As I said though, the placement within the meal confused me a little because soup is generally served at the beginning of a meal.
The next course called the Main was actually four courses in one.  The first was Shrimp dotted with Tobiko and served with a Sliced Lemon.  It was very fresh and tender and had none of the bad flavor that shrimp gets as it gets old.  The next is one of the kings of Japanese Street Food.  Called Takoyaki, it's Fried Dough containing Sliced Octopus and topped with Takoyaki Sauce, which is similar to Worcestershire Sauce.  The next course was Char Siu, a Grilled and Barbecued Pork Belly that was served with Broccolini.  The last dish was called Tako Wasabi which was Wasabi-seasoned Squid and Octopus.  All of it was good, but I think I liked the Takoyaki best.
After the main, I was served my first and only roll and it was definitely something else.  Called Fiesta Maki, it had a little of everything.  Wrapped in Nori and the Rice, of course, it had Salmon, Tuna, Avocado, Cilantro, Masago (a small forage fish in the Smelt family also known as Capelin), Chili Oil and Jalapeno.  This was flavorful with a variety of textures and with the nori, pretty easy to eat.
After the maki, I was served another shellfish called Dynamyte Mussels.  While it did have a New Zealand Mussel and was served in a Mussel Shell, it also included several other things that enhanced the flavor.  It also included Masago, Black Tobiko, and Scallion Mayo with a slice of Lemon on the side.
The savory portion of dinner finished with Sashimi.  I was presented with four fish on a single plate in a very nice presentation which could be differentiated by color.  I was served a couple of slices of Salmon, which was red, Hamachi, which was pink, Escolar, which was rolled and white, and Snapper, which was striped.  Also on the plate were some Pickled Ginger and, on the other side, Wasabi.  I was also given a shallow dish with some Japanese Soy Sauce specifically used with sushi.  While I did eat the pickled ginger between fish to cleanse my palate, I was very light with the soy sauce and the wasabi because I wanted to taste the fish.  The fish was tender and tasted very fresh and was a nice finish to the savory side.
While dessert was not part of the Omakase and I generally don't think much of Japanese desserts, I will try them because, while I can't say that I have really liked many, I also can't say that I have disliked many and I am open to being surprised.  For my dessert, I had a  Coconut Milk Panna Cotta with Kiwifruit, Mango, Mint, and topped with a Blackberry.  It was fresh and refreshing with a sweet and tart flavor.  I was very happy with this and found it to be a nice finish to a very good meal.

I really enjoyed my meal here.  The food was very good and the staff was friendly although I will say that the next time I return, I will make sure to make a reservation so I don't have to be as concerned about time.    


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