Turning Japanese

Yusho has great ramen--and so much more

Matthias Merges spent 14 years working for Charlie Trotter.

But even before Trotter's, since his very first trip in 1994, Merges has loved Japan.

Eighteen years of passion are funneled into Yusho, Merges' Logan Square homage to the country's cuisine. The trained eye (and palate) will pick up on authenticity indicators: kushiyaki and bincho grills; an iron takoyaki pan; luxuriant ramen broth made from pork, chicken and dashi stocks. But Merges is no slave to tradition.

Soaked in buttermilk and kanzuri (fermented chile paste) and sprinkled with matcha, twice-fried chicken ($11) owes as much to the American South as it does to Tokyo's chicken and tonkatsu (fried, breaded pork) joints. Chicken livers are obligatory yakitori offerings, but here Merges whips them into a pork-fat-richened mousse ($6), served with punchy yuzu marmalade and black sesame crackers.

A skewer of leeks ($5.25), decorated with miso, crisp fried shallots and crushed Marcona almonds, is a break from the richness. As is a dish of grilled Maitake mushrooms, charred crisp on the outside and steaming within, dressed with a delicately vinegary broth, a jiggling slow-cooked egg and soft cubes of dashi gelée.

For dessert: soft-serve (here topped with buckwheat caramel), a treat as well-loved in Japan as it is in the States.

Yusho, 2853 N. Kedzie Ave.; 773-904-8558 or yusho-chicago.com