Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Slurping Turtle

After meeting my brother-in-law Dan and cousin-in-law Bobby for craft beers (all of which were terrific, by the way) at Revolution Brewing one recent Saturday afternoon, the missus and I headed downtown for the evening. Our ultimate destination was a fundraiser for my cousin's son (a foundation and webpage have been set up to support their efforts - I encourage you to check it out here), but, first, we needed to get dinner somewhere in the neighborhood. On a whim, I suggested we try to get into Slurping Turtle (116 W. Hubbard), a relatively new eatery opened by rising star Chef Takashi Yagihasi, who arrived in Chicago from Japan with stops in Detroit and Las Vegas on the way. ST is Takashi's 3rd restaurant in town, the others being his namesake fine dining outpost Takashi (where we happen to be dining next month for the first time) and ramen stand Noodles by Takashi in the State Street Macy's food court. The concept here is izakaya, or Japanese casual small plates, a tasty trend that has spawned a number of local places over the past 12 months, including Yusho, Roka Akor, and the now-defunct Chizakaya, all of which have received some level of coverage in this blog.

Anyway, when we arrived, we were fortunate to get seated right away at a communal table before the bulk of the hipster throngs started to appear. I would describe the decor as being cinder block-modern, minimalist to the point of being almost prison-like, with the exception of two giant black and white photos of Chef Takashi as a child back in the fatherland. Lucky for us, the food was much livelier than the setting - our server recommended a couple of items from the bincho (Japanese charcoal) grill to start, a slab of Washyugyu beef (produced at an Oregon ranch that uses the same storied techniques as Wagyu ranchers in Japan) and some asparagus spears wrapped in bacon. This was followed up with my two favorite plates of the visit, a decadent pork belly steamed bun with pickles that rivals any I've had in a place not operated by David Chang, plus some sinfully-good pieces of crispy fried chicken cooked in duck fat (see photo above). The first piece of the bird I took was boneless, leading me to immediately declare in my head "Takashi, you magnificent bastard, you've created the perfect chicken tender"; however, reality intruded when I realized that the remaining pieces did, in fact, contain bones (as do most chickens, by the way), which only slightly dampened my fried poultry lust. Last, but not least, we concluded the meal by splitting a good-sized bowl of tonkotsu ramen (thin noodles in a pork broth with braised pork shoulder, pickled mustard greens, and braised mushrooms). I'd definitely return to ST for the pork buns, fried chicken, and bincho items, although I suspect you can get a bowl of ramen from Chef T's noodle bar in Macy's that's just as good for a slightly lower price (and with fewer hipsters)...

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