If you eat sushi in Chicago, Katsu isn’t really a secret. It’s been featured on Check Please! and routinely makes best fish lists across the city. Paul and I have been enduring the rather long trek up north for years. (Katsu is pretty much in West Rogers Park, and as I’ve mentioned before we live on the scary South Side. For those not of the Chicago region, that’s a 30-45 minute drive in good conditions. Let’s not talk about after work or weekend dinner traffic. And, yes, it’s worth it.)
So, why review what has already been reviewed by so many others? Because the restaurant surprised me on my last visit. Or, rather, I surprised myself by not ordering my usual—the Chef’s Special Sushi and Sashimi Combination which I hesitate to admit would probably feed two easily, but I manage to devour in about 10 minutes. (You know you’ve gone overboard when Chef Katsu comes out from behind the bar to ask how you are doing and looks at you and then says, “You ate all that?” Then, I am forced to wear my fatty, fatty shame face while skinny-minny Paul looks around the room hoping that there is another table he can join rather than sit with his sushi-eating monster of a wife.)
On the night of delightful menu surprises, I did not have to worry about Paul’s reaction. Instead, I went with a friend for a girl’s night out. Since it had been a while since we had sush’d (or is it soosh’d?) together, we decided to go all weird and funky. We were not disappointed.
What We Ate
Purslane salad: A special appetizer on the menu that night, purslane is an edible weed that Chef Katsu grows in his garden. Our waiter said it has healing powers and is used in Eastern medicine. (I sometimes feel that whenever Asian restaurants want Westerners to eat an unfamiliar dish or ingredient, they say it has magical, medicinal properties. And, then we buy into our own latent racism by thinking, “Oh, if the wise and ancient Asians use it, it must be good.”) Well, the salad was good and the dressing was awesome. And, it very well might be medicinal in nature. I still don’t have cancer or Legionnaire’s disease. Purslane kind of reminded me of watercress except thicker.
Katsu Sashimi Carpaccio: Tuna, flounder, fresh salmon, avocado with wasabi sauce and spicy pink plum sauce. This was probably the least exciting item we ordered. Don’t get me wrong, the fish was good. There were fresh berries on the plate as well that made a nice contrast to the sushi and creamy sauce, but it was the least wowsers of the dishes.
Hakata Roll: Marinated mackerel with sushi ginger. Crazy, right? Mackerel and ginger. It was beautiful. A roll that my little brain couldn’t quite get around. It kept repeating, “Why have you not ordered this before, silly human?”
Super White Toro Roll: A white fatty fish with minced scallions. I am sure the super in the name was meant to indicate that it was super good. The scallions gave it a crisp, summer-like quality. And, the fish just did what raw fish does… be yummy in my belly.
Yellowtail: I’m not sure what roll we ordered, but I think it was a yellowtail special. Totally spicy and totally good.
What We Drank
I ordered pinot grigio by the glass. They have a pretty decent pour (huge glass filled more than halfway). After I ordered a second glass, the waiter returned with the rest of the bottle and topped me off because they weren’t going to be able to sell the rest of it. I love that kind of service. My friend had a bottle of sake recommended by the waiter. (They have a decent selection—not overly large, but enough to give you a few choices between dry and fruity.)
The interior is rather Japanese sushi—that is to say nothing fancy. There is a sushi bar which is fun to sit at when they’re not slammed and you can actually talk to Chef Katsu. They have two dining areas with tiled floors and not so pretty lighting. But, I make the daunting drive for the fish and the food, not necessarily the room. And, yes, you do pay a pretty penny. It’s not bento box pricing at Katsu.
Location: 2651 W. Peterson Avenue. Street parking is typically plentiful. If you’ve never been before, drive slowly. The facade blends in with the rest of the building. The blocks are all pretty much the same building on repeat. Easily passable if driving to quickly. And, yes, I usually add a link to the restaurant’s web site, but Katsu is old school. No site that I can find.