by Mike Sula
The other day strolling down North Avenue past Mizu Yakitori I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw a sandwich board advertising the presence of chef Seijero Matsumoto, now on hand to prepare the formal multicourse Japanese meal known as kaiseki.
That took me back me back four summers when the chef partnered with the husband-and-wife owners of Chicago Kalbi and opened the city's first all-kaiseki restaurant, briefly setting local food media ablaze with praise for this exceptional, rigorously seasonal dining experience. Alas, Chicago wasn't ready for kaiseki, and after a few months Matsumoto decamped to Lexington, Kentucky, and the restaurant morphed into Chiyo.
Meanwhile, Annie Zheng, who'd become a friend and fan of Matsumoto's when they worked at a sushi bar together in the late 90s, opened Mizu Yakitori. She says she and the chef were always philosophically simpatico and often talked about opening a place together, but the timing was never right. They kept in touch by phone, and along with soliciting Matsumoto-san's advice she often begged him to return to town and take up residence in her kitchen. About a month ago he did, and Zheng couldn't be more stoked.
"You have to see him work," she says. "It's amazing because when he cuts a fish it is so at ease. Effortless. It looks so easy. Man, I missed that."
In addition to tweaking the existing menu, Zheng says Matsumoto will prepare kaiseki dinners beginning at eight courses for $85 and going up for more (also varying depending on the going price of the often highly specialized ingredients). While these meals are usually pretty structured, my experience was anything but stuffy, as Matsumoto's been known to be coaxed out of the kitchen for a shot of bourbon or two.
Mizu Yakitori, 315 W. North, 312-951-8880.
Photo by Catherine Lambrecht