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Gaijin

Gaijin - Chicago

Open mid-November 2019, Paul Virant’s Gaijin specializes in okonomiyaki, a kind of soft Japanese pancake, adorned with multiple toppings, including pork belly and octopus, and for dessert, kakigori, a shaved ice confection with syrups and ice cream buried in the center.

The name Gaijin (which means “foreigner” in Japanese; it’s used tongue-in-cheek here) recognizes that Virant (still of Vie and Vistro; formerly of Perennial Virant) is venturing into new territory with his new restaurant, the only one in Chicago to specialize in okonomiyaki.

Open mid-November 2019, Paul Virant’s Gaijin specializes in okonomiyaki, a kind of soft Japanese pancake, adorned with multiple toppings, including pork belly and octopus, and for dessert, kakigori, a shaved ice confection with syrups and ice cream buried in the center.

The name Gaijin (which means “foreigner” in Japanese; it’s used tongue-in-cheek here) recognizes that Virant (still of Vie and Vistro; formerly of Perennial Virant) is venturing into new territory with his new restaurant, the only one in Chicago to specialize in okonomiyaki.

Gaijin will offer regional variations of the basic okonomiyaki: Osaka-style (a mix of scallions, cabbage, dashi, egg, and flour), Hiroshima-style (many of the same ingredients, but layered rather than mixed) and Tokyo-style (again, same ingredients, but moister than either of the other two styles).

In Japan, okonomiyaki uses pork and seafood as the primary proteins in the mix, but Gaijin will also offer chicken and beef. As sides or simply “drinking food,” there are plates of yakisoba (fried noodles), Japanese croquettes, baby bok choy, short ribs and a miso soup.

Known, in part, for the many wonderful pickles he produced at Vie, Virant is pickling again at Gaijin, and the pickles, as well as the fresh cut vegetables offered with the okonomiyaki, provide pleasant balance to the lush and savory pancakes.

To drink, there will be a menu of innovative cocktails, but it’s fair to say the house drink will be highballs of Japanese whiskey, a very adaptable sip, effervescent and refreshing between bites of flavorful okonomiyaki. Chicago’s Moody Tongue has developed a special okonomiyaki-friendly Japanese lager that will be offered on draft.

Gaijin is a casual space, with room to sit at the bar outfitted with a long grill (highly recommended; it’s fun to watch dinner being made) and smaller tables with built-in metal grills to keep the okonomiyaki warm and create a light crispness on the bottom of the pancakes.

Designed with Japanese restraint and simple elegance, Gaijin is a good place to come for breakfast, lunch or dinner…or after an evening of drinking and dancing at one of the local clubs.

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