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Kai Zan - Authentic Japanese Restaurant

August 19 2014 - 1:00 PM

Kai Zan is far from the new kid on the block, but as one of Chicago’s 69 2014 Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurants it should be on every Chicagoan’s radar. Bib Gourmand’s designations alert diners of restaurants with great value, which the guide defines as two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less, not including tax and gratuity.

Identical Twin owners and chefs Melvin and Carlo Vizconde have over 15 years of experience including stints at Kamehachi, Kizoku, and Kyoto. Since 2012 they have been serving up creative and tastefully simple Japanese food in their small Humboldt Park establishment.

Kai Zan focuses on “Omakase” style dining, a Japanese phrase that means “It’s up to you” or “chef’s choice”. They encourage guest to let the server know about personal taste preferences upon arrival which will be used to create individualized maki and sushi creations. The Omakase Chef’s Choice menu offers diners a 10-12 course prefix for $60 (depending on market prices).

The interior is intimate and casual. Unlike many small sushi restaurants that maximize space by decreasing your personal space, Kai Zan has booths lining the wall that feel spacious and personal thanks to trendy dividers. If you’re up for it, I highly recommend trying to get a spot at the sushi bar so you can get a first hand glimpse at the care put into making each dish.

We regretfully did not do the Omakase menu though we were still able to sample many options for $100 including tax and tip. Kai Zan is BYOB with a $15 one time corkage fee for tables of 2.

We started out with the delicious Maguro Pearls appetizer which consist of 4 bite sized rice spheres topped with fresh tuna, spicy mayo, chili oil and creamy wasabi. The Kushi Lava Rock Char Broiled Skewers were all priced low and the smoky flavor from the grill adds an extra layer of interest. The scallop and pork belly were both delicious, and with four small scallops they were perfect split between two. The star of the night was the sushi, the Angry Crab and Orange Rush both at ($9 and $10 respectively for 2 pieces) were outstanding.

The Angry Crab was a bite I will not soon forget. A medium-thin sliced piece of tender pink tuna wrapped around a ball of fresh lump crab meat and topped with crunchy panko. The quality of the fish really stood out in the simple preparation and the creative presentation was a feast for the eyes as well. The Flaming Tuna Roll at $14 for 8 pieces was a bit more traditional and, while delicious, it left me wanting a little more excitement. For dessert we devoured the chocolate lava cake and homemade cheesecake with seasonal berries. The sesame ice cream on the chocolate lava cake tasted lightly of peanut butter and was divine.

For the more adventurous eaters, the uni and oyster shooters served with a raw quail egg are very popular. For those who don’t favor raw fish the skewers are a great option and they offer some other great choices under the Teppan Yaki Grill portion of the menu. Including a Yaki Soba dish consisting of soba noodles and seasonal vegetables with an option to add a protein, the large potion we saw being plated up looked delicious.

Kai Zan
2557 W. Chicago Ave (Humboldt Park,  street parking available)

Reservations are recommended: 5-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; closed Wednesday.

Lava Cake and Cheese Cake

Lava Cake and Cheese Cake

Flaming Tuna Roll

Orange Rush

Angry Crab

Angry Crab and Orange Rush

Maguro Pearls

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