Ari Bendersky | Crain’s Chicago Business | February 4, 2019
Paul Virant, who earned a Michelin star for his upscale Western Springs restaurant Vie and who later owned Perennial Virant, is opening a restaurant in the West Loop dedicated to a unique type of Japanese pancake called okonomiyaki.
Virant, who was named Food & Wine best new chef in 2007, is opening Gaijin, a restaurant fully dedicated to okonomiyaki, usually made from a flour batter, cabbage, egg, dashi and other ingredients, and topped with ingredients like seafood, pork belly and bonito flakes. It’s sometimes called Osaka soul food.
The 2,300-square-foot, 60-seat restaurant will open this summer on Lake Street at a busy culinary intersection that includes Shake Shack, Federales and Bar Takito. While some Chicago restaurants like Izakaya Mita and Booze Box serve this Japanese street food, Gaijin will be the first to focus on it.
Gaijin, which means foreigner or outsider, will offer two styles of okonomiyaki: Osaka-style, where ingredients get mixed together before griddling, and Hiroshima-style, where ingredients get layered before griddling. Each pancake, which will cost between $9 and $18, is customizable, which is how the dish gets its name: Okonomi means “as you like” and yaki means “cooked.” Virant, who will cook from an open kitchen where guests can see the dishes being prepared on a long grill, will use traditional ingredients like bacon, shrimp and udon noodles, but will use his preserving skills and also tap his relationships with local farmers for high-quality local proteins. Guest tables will have teppan griddles from Japan in the middle to keep food warm during meals.