'Chizakaya – Japanese Grub Pub in the heart of Lakeview' by Chef Shane Zimmerman
Chizakaya is truly one of the greats in my new neighborhood, Lakeview. It takes its name from a play on words, Chi referring to Chicago and izakaya, to the tradition Japanese small bars that you would find in Tokyo or Osaka. Chizakaya’s Chef Harold Jurado, a native of Chicago, has done stints first at Japonais in Chicago and New York, Charlie Trotter’s, and Sunda. He opened Chizakaya in 2010 with chef de cuisine Robert Rubba. The pork-centric menu includes a variety of yakitori or grilled meats (including my favorites of duck hearts and chicken skin), noodle bowls, and some fantastic small and large plates. As a now-veteran fine-diner (see MOE truck trips) I ordered a nice pork-centric tasting menu. We started off with Yakitori of chicken skin and baby squid, which were amazing, though for the squimish, the little head and tentacles of the baby squid may be a difficult bite. The crispy puffed pig ears were as any deep fried pork parts, absolutely delicious. We moved on to crispy pork belly with a slow poached egg, egg yolk plus anything is A-OK in my book! Hamachi or Japanese Amberjack with bone marrow, garlic and ume boshi (pickle plums) were next and need I mention ditto with greatness of bone marrow in anything. The pork and kmichi gyoza dumplings weren’t my favorite, but had decent flavor. We finished with an okinomiyaki, literally meaning whatever you want (okinomi) that’s grilled (yaki). Often called a Japanese pancake or pizza, this starch and egg pancake is stuffed with bacon, squid and shrimp, finished with a drizzle of sweet soy and Japanese mayonnaise. This was an over-the-top savory ending to our meal, partly because we were stuffed by that time…
One key lesson for any adventurous diner is don’t be afraid to sit at the bar and talk up the bartender, especially if you’re interested in having a few drinks. They most likely have tried it all and know what drinks go well with your meal. Just be sure not to be too chatty if they are ‘in the weeds’ or very busy. We were lucky enough to be there on a slow night so we got to talk to the bartender and see first hand their signature drink, the Ferry the World. This cocktail is a mix of Armanac, lemon, green tea syrup, absinthe and a raw egg white, a true rarity. Though beware, this cocktail is a stiff one, but very tasty.
As this was my second trip to Chizakaya, it did not disappoint, from the stellar menu to the great cocktails, this is truly one of Chicago’s finest gastropubs.
Chizakaya Japanese Pub
3056 North Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL 60657
Reservations: Accepted; Bar: Full Service; Price: $$ (5-14 small plates)