That would be Wasabi, the restaurant on 2115 N. Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago (click here for their website)—not “wasabi” the green horseradish paste dabbed on sushi.
Will and I were a bit apprehensive about whether we should try this restaurant since it seemed so “hip.” We are getting to that age where we are either annoyed by the super-hip young people, or—more usually—we are annoying to them. We were made both more hesitant and more emboldened by a review of the restaurant on Yelp that included this description: “the crowd can be kinda hipster-ish. Feel a little uncomfortable without facial hair, flannel shirt, or visible tattoos. but I forgot about it after the first slurp of the ramen.”
We thought that we would not be able to get in without a long wait since we didn’t get an early start after our Friday workday was over. However, we seemed to time the highway and lights ok—and even found a parking space opening up right in front of the restaurant as we were pulling into that block. (Sure, we had to pay a lot for parking, but that’s a reality of living in Chicago these days.)
Once we got to the restaurant, we put our name down on a clipboard, where we were also asked if we would be willing to be seated at the bar. Seeing a crowd formed already, we agreed to do so. Only about 15 minutes later, they called my name and asked if we wanted to sit outside. It being what we thought might be the last pleasant weekend in Chicago, we heartily agreed. It was a little chilly, but we enjoyed sitting outside. The el screeching to a stop every few minutes was something of a distraction, yes, but it was fun to people watch in an area we don’t normally frequent.
Even before we got our food, we were feeling positive about the hordes of twenty-something Asians milling outside with their non-Asian partners and friends. (And since when was it so cool to be a young Asian? Clearly I was in my twenties at the wrong time!) The Asian presence boded well for the authenticity of the flavor, and the mix of crowd also suggested that this was a new, young, bold kind of pan-Asian flavor.
We ordered a variety of grilled skewers since Will was feeling reminiscent about all the yakitorias he visited during the years he taught English in a little Japanese village. Pork belly was his favorite, but the chicken skin was not nearly cooked as crisp as it should have been. The fried chicken lollipops were fun, and the pork belly and kimchi spring roll (pictured below) was another fried bit of yummy. We were glad to have gotten both recommendations from all the yelp reviews (click here for reviews.).
The other item that reviewers raved about was the Spicy Garlic Miso Ramen (pictured at the top of post)—with the obligatory Berkshire pork belly. (Notice a theme here?) That dish was hands down our favorite. The broth was amazingly flavorful, the egg just perfectly soft-boiled (where you can see the glistening center of uncooked yolk), and the generous pork slices just melting in your mouth.
I asked Will whether this ramen reminded him of his years in Japan. He quickly replied that this ramen was far better than any ramen he had in Japan. There you have it. That's as hearty a recommendation as one could get.