Chicago Restaurant Week 2021: Dinner at Gaijin

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2021, held March 19–April 4. To browse past Restaurant Week coverage between 2013 and 2020, click here.

Shrimp okonomiyaki, Gaijin
Osaka-style okonomiyaki with tempura fried shrimp, corn, creole butter, arare, and udon

Best Bite: Esteemed Chicago chef Paul Virant opened Gaijin in 2019 as Chicago’s first restaurant dedicated to okonomiyaki, a Japanese savory pancake. I was excited to make my first visit during Restaurant Week, when five Osaka-style versions were available as part of the four-course menu. Our group of three chose shrimp, octopus, and pork to share, each topped with “dancing” bonito flakes and kept perfectly warm on the teppan griddle built into our table. I loved all three: the tempura shrimp and corn with caramelized udon noodles, the sweet-and-salty octopus with crispy rice, and the breakfast-leaning pork with bacon and a fried egg. The flavor combinations and textural contrasts, all anchored by the cabbage-studded pancake base, were ones I’d go back for again and again.

Octopus okonomiyaki, Gaijin
Osaka-style okonomiyaki with octopus, hot sauce, honey gastrique, bonito, and crispy rice
Veggie yakisoba, Gaijin
Veggie yakisoba with spinach, mushrooms, sweet corn, cabbage, scallions, carrots, sauce, and sesame

Other notes: The yakisoba in the second course was a delicious tangle of well-cooked vegetables and umami-coated noodles. And I loved the mochi donut, reminiscent of funnel cake but with chewiness from the rice flour, and topped with a coconut and pandan leaf glaze. This also happened to be the best Restaurant Week value I’ve seen in a long time: four generous courses at the lower-tier dinner price.

Pandan-coconut mochi donut, Gaijin
Pandan-coconut mochi donut

The details: Gaijin, 950 W. Lake St., Chicago.

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