Playing With Fire

Delicacies from the grill--and beyond--at Sumi Robata Bar

The first thing you'll see when entering Sumi Robata Bar is chef Gene Kato manning his two custom Japanese robata grills.

He moves gracefully between them, brushing tare on duck breast ($7) on one, turning petite heads of romaine lettuce ($3) on the other.

The sights and scents of the grills dominate the restaurant, and the meat, seafood and vegetables that come off them are superb. But Sumi is about more than a binchotan charcoal flame.

The restaurant's appetizers are delicate and artfully composed, designed to complement and counter the primal char of the grill. Start with crunchy slivers of gobo, burdock root braised in mirin and soy, with sesame paste and frizzled leeks ($4). A cold shrimp-tomato dish ($12) is as elegant as the grilled bites are lusty. Sweet botan ebi are barely seared, and joined in a clay bowl by oven-dried tomatoes, Japanese leeks, aromatic ohba leaf and yuzu vinaigrette.

Kato recommends finishing with the Inaniwa udon ($10), slippery, chewy udon noodles plated with oversize ice cubes to keep them cool. Dunked into cold soy-dashi broth, it's a sublimely refreshing post-robata dish.

Finish with one last creamy, earthy bite: silken soy-milk panna cotta with Japanese sweet-potato puree ($5).

Sumi Robata Bar, 702 N. Wells St.; 312-988-7864 or sumirobatabar.com