Kai Zan, Hidden Gem Japanese Restaurant | Chicago

The most charming Japanese spot you've never heard of

Few restaurants open as quietly as Kai Zan did earlier this month.

And few places deserve as fervent praise as this charming Ukrainian Village jewel box.

Melvin and Carlo Vizconde, twin brothers who have spent nearly two decades working in Japanese restaurants, own the 22-seat BYOB. Melvin's wife is Japanese; "She critiques me a lot," he says.

We found little to criticize about house-made tofu with okra, dashi and a tumbleweed of shaved bonito ($4). A few drops of soy sauce enlivened the delicate flavors. Maguro pearls ($8) need no extra adornment: The bite-size rice balls are flavor bombs, topped with seared tuna, spicy mayonnaise and marinated scallions.

Tonkatsu shiso age ($6) evoked a long-ago dinner at a tonkatsu restaurant in Tokyo. Here, pork is wrapped around shiso before being breaded and fried, and the Worcestershire-flavored dipping sauce and raw cabbage with ginger dressing are spot-on.

Kai Zan has an ample sushi list, plus playful compositions like the orange rush, a bay scallop wrapped with salmon and brushed with citrus glaze. There's an omakase (tasting) menu, too, starting at $50 and tailored to each guest.

Finish with coffee gelatin, topped with sweet red beans and whipped cream, a dessert both unusual and distinctly Japanese.

Kai Zan, 2557 W. Chicago Ave.; 773-278-5776 or eatatkaizan.com