Wednesday, February 3

Izakaya Mita

You might need a dictionary to dine at Izakaya Mita, but that shouldn't stop you from experiencing a unique dining experience. Izakaya Mita, owned by mother/son team Helen and Brian Mita, opened last January in Bucktown. The warm restaurant serves Japanese pub fare, as well as an extensive sake offering.

I stopped by with a friend on a Saturday night to find every table occupied (it was also Chicago Restaurant Week). We were greeted by Brian Mita who was extremely knowledgeable about sake. We tried a sake flight which he custom picked for us, as well as a few cocktails including the Kyoto 75, their take on a French 75 featuring refreshing sparkling sake, and a negroni-like concoction that certainly packed a punch. If you're afraid of committing to one type of sake, you can order a tasting portion.

Bucktown
Kyoto 75 and Sake Tasting
Bucktown
Negroni-like Cocktail
Izakaya Mita's menu is meant for sharing and is divided into sections including: cold, sashimi, warm, bincho tan (charcoal grill), sliders, hearty bites, tempura, and noodles. Yes, there's a lot to browse through! That's where server recommendations come in handy. We decided to taste a few items across the menu sections to get a good feel for what they had to offer.

Starting with the cold items, we tried the sake no tsumami, a platter of marinated octopus, marinated squid in fermented sauce, and raw octopus in wasabi marinade. OK, I'd like to think I'm pretty adventurous when it comes to food, but this was definitely out there for me. I actually enjoyed the marinated octopus with its tangy sesame flavor, but both squid preparations were far too intense in flavor for me. At least I tried it!

Bucktown
Sake No Tsumami
Bucktown
Sake No Tsumami
Izakaya Mita offers several varieties of sashimi, or you can try multiple together in their sashimi salad. This was served with generous and impeccably fresh slices of salmon, tuna, and possibly yellowtail (our server didn't tell us). The vinaigrette was fantastic too, although I'm still not sure what was in it (no one seemed to know).

Bucktown
Sashimi Salad
Moving along to warm plates was our favorite dish of the night, Kinoko Itame, or mushrooms sauteed in butter and a soy citrus sauce. Holy sh*t was this delicious. I mean, what's not to like? It's smothered in butter with a hint of citrus to cut away at the richness. These are a must order.

Bucktown
Kinoko Itame
The bincho tan portion of the menu includes your choice of meats and veggies that are cooked on skewers atop a charcoal grill. We tried the duck, and chicken meatballs, as well as shishito peppers, and onions. The standouts were the mushrooms and onions, although I was partial to the peppers which occasionally packed a spicy punch. It was like pepper roulette, you never knew when you were about to bite into a flaming hot fully-seeded shishito.

Bucktown
Duck
Bucktown
Chicken Meatballs, Shishito Peppers, Onion
The sliders portion of the menu includes five options including eel, shrimp, chicken, beef and fish served on crispy rice. Their Chicago Restaurant Week menu included a lobster version so I asked if we could try it, and they complied. The slider is really only big enough for two bites, but it had two chunks of tempura lobster on top, as well as a tasty aioli. I enjoyed the crispy rice "bun" that brought everything together.

Bucktown
Lobster Rice Slider
One of the most popular dishes on the menu is the okonomiyaki, found under the warm section of the menu. It's a Tokyo-style savory pancake with your choice of shrimp and crab, or pork belly. We opted for the pork belly which was thinly sliced and layered on top of the dense pancake. This dish is very heavy but also incredibly flavorful. The sauces on top are laid on there thick, as are the bonito flakes. The pickled ginger garnish helps cut away at the thick sauce and savory pancake. I enjoyed it, but only needed a small slice to feel satisfied.

Bucktown
Okonomiyaki
Even though there's no shortage of ramen spots in the city, somehow I rarely find myself eating ramen. That's why I decided to try their tonkotsu ramen with bamboo shoots, soft boiled egg, chasu marinated pork, negi (onion), and pickled ginger. I enjoyed the thick broth and the pork was very tender and well-seasoned. The sweet egg was perfectly cooked as well.

Bucktown
Tonkotsu Ramen
Despite being too full to breathe, we were told we had to try the matcha green tea cheesecake. While I love desserts, I'm usually disappointed with Japanese dessert options. Boy, was I wrong. The cheesecake perfectly balanced bitter and sweet flavors and had a nice and creamy texture. It was probably my second favorite thing we ate after the sauteed mushrooms.

Bucktown
Matcha Green Tea Cheesecake
If you're looking for a laid-back Japanese spot and are open to trying dishes you may not be familiar with, head to Izakaya Mita. Don't feel intimidated by the menu. There are descriptions and the staff is more than willing to help. I also recommend allowing the staff to suggest sake options and dishes for you to try. Don't forget to order the mushrooms!

Note: my meal at Izakaya Mita was complimentary; however, all opinions expressed are my own. 

Izakaya Mita
1960 N. Damen Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
773.799.8677
Izakaya Mita Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Tuesday, February 2

Hubbard Inn

River North Dinner
Hubbard Inn
While River North European-inspired restaurant, Hubbard Inn, is not new to the Chicago dining scene (they've been around since 2011), they've made some improvements to their menu that made me want to check them out. I'd been to Hubbard Inn for brunch and happy hour, but never for dinner.

The BF and I stopped in on a weeknight when the place was buzzing with the post-work happy hour crowd taking advantage of their raw bar specials including $1 oysters and $2 lobster or shrimp cocktail.

We both ordered glasses of wine, but they also have a lengthy list of house and classic cocktails, as well as draft and bottled beers. The food menu is pretty huge, so I suggest having a game plan. We decided to split several starters and then move into entrees and a dessert. Our starters included the daily cheese plate with blue, cow's milk, and cheddar cheeses. For $18, one would expect much more cheese and not just three tiny chunks. There were more accompaniments (honeycomb, nuts, jams, bread, grapes) than cheese. The second starter, a shaved Brussels sprout Caesar salad performed better. What it lacked in originality it made up for in flavor. The tempura-fried anchovies on top are not for the faint of heart.

River North Dinner
Cheese Plate
River North Dinner
Shaved Brussels Sprouts Caesar Salad
Our third starter was my favorite dish of the night, the chickpea crepe. This is one of Hubbard Inn's menu staples since it opened and certainly not a dish I would have ordered based on the description. The chickpea crepe has more of a light pancake consistency and is filled with roasted cauliflower, spinach, harissa, brown lentils, roasted tomatoes, and is topped with yogurt, and cucumber salad. The flavor is intense in a good way and I loved the lemon-dressed salad which added a refreshing punch.

River North Dinner
Chickpea Crepe
Our final appetizer was the seared scallops with pumpkin puree, fried sage, and hazelnut brown butter. This dish is pricey at $18 for two scallops. Yes, they are huge scallops, but still. Not sure that really justifies the price point. The scallops were cooked well and the flavors worked together, but there was a lot going on on the plate, which seemed to be a central theme of the night.

Seared Scallops
For our main courses, we split the grilled salmon steak with wild mushroom risotto, rapini, and saffron-toasted chili foam, and the whiskey-braised short rib with toasted spaghetti squash, Parmesan, and a toasted walnut sweet and sour sauce. First, the salmon. We enjoyed the choice of a salmon steak vs. a filet as it was meatier and more substantial. The risotto was delicious  but the wetness of the foam, risotto, and oil from the fish made everything sort of morph together. 

River North Dinner
Grilled Salmon Steak
The short rib was fork-tender, and I enjoyed the acidic contrast of the walnut sweet and sour sauce. The spaghetti squash was so buttery one might mistake it for a different starch. The dish had great flavors, but was very saucy, resulting in overly-saturated everything. 

River North Dinner
Whiskey Braised Short Rib
I was intrigued by the dessert menu option of a take on a Rice Krispie Treat. Hubbard Inn's version featured puffed wild rice, topped with dark chocolate, marshmallow brulee, and pumpkin mousse. The wild rice added a more savory flavor than the standard childhood treat that I can't say I enjoyed. The hard texture when biting into it also wasn't something I expected.

River North Chicago
Puffed Wild Rice Krispie Treat
My overall opinion of the dinner menu items I tried is that less is more, (unless you're talking about that cheese plate). I felt some of the dishes were trying to accomplish too many flavors or textures, resulting in a sloppy appearance on the plate and too much blending of dish elements. While some components were well-executed (chickpea pancake, short rib), I think there is room for improvement and simplicity.

Note: my meal at Hubbard Inn was complimentary; however, all opinions expressed are my own.

Hubbard Inn
110 W. Hubbard St.
Chicago, IL 60654
312.222.1331
Hubbard Inn Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 
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