2853 N. Kedzie Ave. 773-904-8558
Rating: !! and a half (out of 4) Take it or leave it
The scene: Matthias Merges spent years in the kitchen at Charlie Trotter’s in Lincoln Park. Now you’ll find him on Kedzie Avenue, a couple blocks north of Longman & Eagle where Logan Square turns into Avondale, at month-old restaurant Yusho. Quirkily decorated with mis-matched lamps, this late-night kitchen serves shared plates inspired by Japanese street food.
What’s that? A menu chock full of exotic ingredients—gobo root, dombu, umeboshi, kalamansi—presents the opportunity to either come to the rescue with your smart phone (or just ask your server), or, if you’re a Japanese food expert, show off in front of your friends. In some cases, menu descriptions could stand to be expanded beyond just the ingredients; my table mates would have liked to know that “chicken thigh” ($5.50) was actually chicken meatballs, and that the “chicken wings” ($6) would arrive boneless.
High points: Cocktails were killer. The Baconian Cipher ($11) is a clove- and tamarind-laced tequila and vermouth mixer, while fans of old fashioneds should try the Two Tribes ($8) made with rye, barrel-aged stonefruit bitters, amaro and palm sugar served on the rocks. For something really different, sip the seasonal flavor of chuhai, a shochu-spiked soda ($8). Unrelated: The gigantic paper towel rolls in the restrooms and checks served up in Japanese fish tins were the talk of our table.
Low points: Shared plates can be fun, except when said plates are not actually shareable in practice. Some dishes split well between two people but not more, while others seemed to make more sense just for one person, such as a single steamed bun stuffed with shreds of beef short rib ($6.50). The maitake mushroom with poached egg and cubes of dashi jelly ($10) was a pain to divide, especially with the provided chopsticks (though when we asked if it was lame to ask for silverware, our server joked that eating with chopsticks, silverware or your hands were all encouraged). Soft-serve ice cream ($5) with crystallized ginger and buckwheat caramel didn’t top that of other spots doing the same, such as Xoco and Grahamwich.
Bottom line: The presentations were pretty and the service was sweet, but after trying a half dozen dishes, none really stuck out as crave-worthy.