by Kate Schmidt
Earlier this week I discovered that Mizu Yakitori, 315 W. North Ave., is shuttered.
This is a most regrettable development—it was the best restaurant in my neighborhood. Why don't some of the mediocre ones go out of business instead?
Good question. Particularly, perhaps, when it comes to izakaya-ish restaurants—or at least some of the ones Mike Sula favors.* Chinatown's kooky Lure Izakaya Pub: gone. River North's Union Sushi & Barbeque Grill, described by Sula as "a David Chang-style confluence of carnicentric excess and pan-Asiatica": alive, well, and still periodically lit by the "cinematically hellish flames" of its robata grill. ("Wanna hit Union?" I overheard a dude on the Brown Line at rush hour ask a buddy not long ago.)
Mizu Yakitori & Sushi Lounge was a different story, albeit one Sula also had his finger on. A few years back Annie Zheng, Mizu's owner, lured chef Seijiro Matsumoto to the Old Town spot to exercise his hand at kaiseki, the elaborate seasonal tasting menus he'd offered for a time at a short-lived Albany Park storefront. Zheng was personally of the view that sushi and other items on the everyday menu were beneath his talents, but Matsumoto seemed happy enough.
"He doesn't care about money," Zheng told Sula at the time. "He just wants to work and party. He's been to the top already. He said, 'I have the spirit of the samurai. I don't care if I die.' . . . For him there is no baggage. If people approve of his work he is happy."
For what it's worth, I, like Roth, approved—while I never had the means to try the kaiseki menu, the few simple meals I did have at Mizu still stand out in memory. In its place, I suppose, I could give Slurping Turtle a try. If I somehow lucked into piles of money I could splurge on an exquisite omakase meal at Streeterville's Masaki. But being the person I am, I'll probably stick to the very different but always satisfying Noon Hour Grill, itself home to something of a legend.
* Lakeview's Chizakaya, about which Sula was tepid, also closed in 2012; Yuzu Sushi & Robata Grill, reviewed by Sula together with Union Sushi, is still enthusiastically peddling cream cheese makimono in East Village. Yusho—one of Sula's favorite restaurants of 2012—is in a class by itself. Still to come is Sumi TM Robata Bar (and, yes, that's a trademark).