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Matsumoto - Chicago's only All-Kaiseki Japanese restaurant

Matsumoto - Chicago's only All-Kaiseki Japanese restaurant
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  • Post #61 - November 3rd, 2005, 1:44 pm
    Post #61 - November 3rd, 2005, 1:44 pm Post #61 - November 3rd, 2005, 1:44 pm
    aschie30 wrote:Given how enthusiastically Phil Vettel recommended Matsumoto's food, I can only assume that he docked the restaurant a star for its decor, lighting and snap-apart chopsticks, which he strongly and openly detested. All in all, two stars are not bad.

    I would say a star docked for atmosphere and a star docked for service. I read his comments as four-star food.

    Jesper wrote:From Cathy/LTHF to Phil Vettel in only 2 months -- amazing!!

    I find this pretty amazing as well.
  • Post #62 - November 3rd, 2005, 3:43 pm
    Post #62 - November 3rd, 2005, 3:43 pm Post #62 - November 3rd, 2005, 3:43 pm
    You understand, this place will never be the same. It's either going to get a lot better (decor/service), or a lot worse (food). Real fast.

    The Arun's reference, while apt, was troubling. Not the intended idea, I know.
  • Post #63 - November 3rd, 2005, 3:54 pm
    Post #63 - November 3rd, 2005, 3:54 pm Post #63 - November 3rd, 2005, 3:54 pm
    Link to Vettel's review from today's Chicago Tribune: ... eisure-utl
  • Post #64 - November 3rd, 2005, 6:04 pm
    Post #64 - November 3rd, 2005, 6:04 pm Post #64 - November 3rd, 2005, 6:04 pm
    Vettel describes the chilled monkfish liver (ankimo) starter as a "first round knockout." I'd have to agree. I'm glad this dish was not served as a first course on my intial visit, because it would have set the bar incredibly high--too high perhaps. The dish is an almost too generous portion of chilled monkfish liver "pate"--topped with a ponzu sauce that had been thickened slightly with liver itself. Sprinkled generously with chive confetti--and a dollop of grated daikon radish; it was a meal in and of itself.

    I can understand, but do not sympathize with Vettel's beefs about the decor. I personally enjoy the unpretentious and slightly surreal vibe of the place. Besides the pull-apart chopsticks, the stemware and serving vessels are appropriate and I think, quite beautiful. He's probably right though--folks that are spending $100 or more dollars on dinner might expect something more refined.

    Also in his review he spends a sentence or two talking about the wine and sake selection. He said that the servers "know the names and prices of the wines and sakes and not a great deal more." Although we didn't ask about the wine selection--when we inquired about the sake selection, Fujiko, brought in three very different bottles of top grade premium sake--and described each one's flavor profile and offered their prices as well. While she may not be a sake expert, the explanations were certainly better than what Vettel describes.

    I wondered about Vettel's comparison between Arun Sampanthavivat and Matsumoto. Saying that Arun was to Thai cuisine as Matsumoto is to Japanese cuisine--seems a bit of a stretch. His argument is that they both introduced a "relevatory" food in rough-edged surroundings. Do you think this comparison is fair?

  • Post #65 - November 4th, 2005, 12:06 am
    Post #65 - November 4th, 2005, 12:06 am Post #65 - November 4th, 2005, 12:06 am
    I was lucky enough to try Matsumoto last Saturday (10/29/05), before the Trib review, and I brought the camera. Dinner lasted over 3 hours, with a break in the middle to feed the meter on Lawrence Ave. So we ordered some hot sake and off we went.

    1. Monkfish liver w/ponzu sauce, scallions and grated radish
    I thought this was interesting, and gave a flavor for the menu as being something new and different from the now ubiquitous sushi bar, but I wasn’t enamored by it as others were.

    2. Tray of 5 courses:
    a) Salmon Roe with seaweed
    b) Sea Urchin w/ quail egg yolk, grated radish, scallion
    c) Squid-flavored fried sea urchin?
    d) baked eggplant with mountain potato, scallion
    e) lobster w/ radish slices in rice wine vinegar
    Of these I really liked the sea urchin with quail egg yolk. And of course salmon roe is always a crowd pleaser.

    Close up of the sea urchin shooter
    So much flavor in that tiny shot glass, and the most memorable too. Sort of like the the movie "Men In Black" where the most powerful gun was the smallest.
    So small, yet such a powerful punch of flavor, I had to have another shot. Luckily for me, one of us was not game to try, so I downed a second one. Yum!

    3. Sashimi: sweet shrimp, chu-toro, flounder, scallop, sea urchin, squid, freshly grated wasabi
    I was almost sorry to go back to the world of known foods, but it was nice sushi.

    For the non-raw fish eater: crab, radish, cucumber, in a fruity yuzu? Sauce

    4. clear broth, with flounder and matsutake mushroom

    5. large oysters in homemade miso sauce, with mushrooms, scallions, and long Japanese root shavings (kobo?) – presentation: served bubbling at the table
    These were very tasty, and at this point we are starting to get full. But we couldn’t leave an oyster on the table; that would be wrong.

    6. rolled fishcake in gelee with soybeans
    I hate to say it, but it tasted like gefilte fish

    7. deep fried: fish balls, seaweed, shiso leaf, asparagus, zucchini, served with lemon and flavored salt with sesame
    Front view:
    Side view:
    Who could resist a flash fried shiso leaf? It was all pretty amazing; deep fried fish balls were a definite improvement on the rolled fish cake from the previous course. My only complaint with this one is that the zucchini was really soggy.

    8. long black plate with:
    a) sliced duck breast, with pickled sweet onion
    b) fried, marinated river fish (described in the Trib review)
    c) pickled chestnut
    d) pickled radish (on a carrot slice)

    9. Aliens at the Table
    The individual nabe burner/pots had lives of their own. There was a heat source in the middle; the stew was simmering, making noise. The gold and silver leaves of the “bowl” were shiny and flared, reflecting the lights from the burners and amplifying the sounds of the nabe cooking. The outside of the burners were filled with Japanese writing, trying to tell us something. It was as if we were entertaining alien visitors at our table, and then eating them.

    Fish Nabe contained: flounder, fried tofu, shitake mushroom, rice cake, cabbage, dark greens of some kind, scallions, all in a miso broth
    The nabe was really tasty, but also heavy with the thick miso broth. Sauce would have been good for dunking with a crusty French baguette, but we were way to full at that moment, and just trying to soak in all of the flavors.

    10. Encore sushi: chu-toro, flounder, real crab
    We were really full at this point, but who could turn down toro? We stretched the linings of out stomachs to fit in every last piece of fish.

    For the non-raw fish eater: pickled sweet radish roll
    (not original presentation)

    11. Dessert: Sweet red bean pudding with sweet mochi rice cake in the middle.
    No one finished theirs – we were all too full to have but a taste.

    Overall: a great experience. I’m glad they got the exposure from the Trib, but I am worried that they will not be able to handle the crowds, and how or if they will compromise their small, meticulous, powerful creations for something more amenable to larger numbers of people. We got some special service, but I think it was because we were one of 2 tables in there that night, and we ordered the larger menu. The other thing we noticed is that the menu was very protein-heavy. I suppose they really wanted to impress us, and be generous with their variety and portions of fish. And impressed we were.
    Last edited by Rich4 on November 4th, 2005, 7:02 am, edited 1 time in total.
    there's food, and then there's food
  • Post #66 - November 4th, 2005, 5:43 am
    Post #66 - November 4th, 2005, 5:43 am Post #66 - November 4th, 2005, 5:43 am
    Just a quick note to promise a review on post-Vettel Matsumoto. Lovely Dining Companion's birthday is coming up and so dinner is at Matsumoto tomorrow evening. LDC is of Japanese descent but has some very particular preferences--doesn't like sashimi, for instance. Indeed, my "adventuresome"-ness quotient as well as my taste for Japanese food is quite bit higher than hers.

    I had a wonderful (and promising) conversation when making the reservation and have high hopes. I'm only concerned (one might say I am VERY concerned) about the effect of Vettel's review on the restaurant now. I don't need to be one of only two tables in the place, but the prospect of a packed restaurant unnerves and, frankly, saddens me. Still, it will be an interesting evening and, I hope, the life-altering experience (or at least the exceptionally amazing one) that so many have described.
    Gypsy Boy

    "I am not a glutton--I am an explorer of food." (Erma Bombeck)
  • Post #67 - November 4th, 2005, 1:08 pm
    Post #67 - November 4th, 2005, 1:08 pm Post #67 - November 4th, 2005, 1:08 pm
    I'm curious, as an aside, does the Trib (or similar outlets) notify a restaurant before a review is released? I know Check, Please! prepares restaurants for the onslaught, but I don't know about major papers.

    I guess most places with starred reviews expect them, so the challenges may not be as great as with a place like Matsumoto.
  • Post #68 - November 7th, 2005, 9:28 am
    Post #68 - November 7th, 2005, 9:28 am Post #68 - November 7th, 2005, 9:28 am
    Any idea on the difference between "traditional vs "very traditional" menus?
  • Post #69 - November 22nd, 2005, 6:40 pm
    Post #69 - November 22nd, 2005, 6:40 pm Post #69 - November 22nd, 2005, 6:40 pm
    Dennis Ray Wheaton, in the newest Chicago Mag, writes up Meiji and Matsumoto. He piles on about Matsumoto's balsa chopsticks, opining (originally) that at this price point, utensils should match expectations. This goes without saying, natch, but can't we just accept this oddity as quirky? Reviewers like to parade this fact around as if wooden chopsticks alone will keep people away.

    Do I get dinged for nit-picking the nit-picker?

    Wheaton had this to say about his Meiji experience:

    But what was with the ichigo maki filled with togarashi-flecked rice, spicy unagi (freshwater eel), masago (smelt roe), avocado and jalapeno tempura? It would have been perfect without the lily-gilding thin-sliced strawberries placed over the spicy tuna.

    Here is what was with it: ichigo = strawberry.

    If you don't want lily-gilding, don't order the Gilt Lily Burger.

    I have been lurking long enough, intimidated to join in the discussion. As always, it just takes a bit of brazen dullardry to compel me to open my big trap.
  • Post #70 - November 22nd, 2005, 6:42 pm
    Post #70 - November 22nd, 2005, 6:42 pm Post #70 - November 22nd, 2005, 6:42 pm
    gastro gnome wrote:Here is what was with it: ichigo = strawberry.

    If you don't want lily-gilding, don't order the Gilt Lily Burger.

    I have been lurking long enough, intimidated to join in the discussion. As always, it just takes a bit of brazen dullardry to compel me to open my big trap.

    Oh man, welcome to LTH. Great snark!
    Ed Fisher
    my chicago food photos

    RIP LTH.
  • Post #71 - December 2nd, 2005, 3:31 pm
    Post #71 - December 2nd, 2005, 3:31 pm Post #71 - December 2nd, 2005, 3:31 pm
    I had dinner at Matsumoto last night. I ordered the $100 kaiseki: I wasn't offered a choice between modern and traditional, and when I asked for traditional, I was told that it's only traditional now, if I understood the person who took my reservation correctly. (I didn't ask about "very traditional.") At any rate, the dinner had several courses in common with Rich4's dinner posted Nov. 4 above, but was somewhat less elaborate, which I suspect is because Rich ordered a more expensive kaiseki.

    1. Monkfish liver with a sauce of ponzu mixed with monkfish liver. As for other diners, this was one of the highlights. The liver wasn't as fatty and rich as foie gras, but compared to other liver I've had it was definitely a step in that direction, both in texture and flavor. The sauce was very acidic, and in fact I found it almost overpowered the monkfish.

    2. Japanese eggplant with mountain potato, seaweed and roe. It looks like this is the dish in the bottom right corner of Rich's 2nd course. I understood the complaints about the texture more than I did the first time I was here, but still I liked the dish: its relative blandness was a nice contrast with the first course.

    3. Sashimi: toro, raw shrimp, squid, and a type of Japanese clam, served in a pool of plum(?) vinaigrette. The toro was my favorite, but it was all very good, although the vinaigrette could again be overpowering if you weren't careful (especially if you mix in too much of the wasabi, as I did at first).

    4. Clear soup with matsutake mushrooms, whitefish and ginkgo. This was served in a small pot like a teapot, with a tiny cup set on top. You poured the soup from the pot into the little cup and drank it from there, so that the mushrooms, whitefish and ginkgo remained in the pot (and when I ate them after finishing the soup, the flavor had been boiled out of them). This was again very good, with the very delicate flavor of the soup making a nice contrast with the strong flavor of the sashimi and sauce. (In fact the soup was served at the same time as the third course, so I assumed you were supposed to alternate them, and did so.)

    5. Freshwater eel omelet-style. This was served in a large, flattish covered dish which I was told was very hot. The server removed the cover to reveal the "omelet" inside still cooking. After a minute or two, the egg had solidified and I began to eat. After a bit of experimentation, I settled on alternating bites of the eel and the egg, and again this made for a pleasing contrast between the two tastes. There were also long slivers of some kind of vegetable in the omelet.

    6. Deep fried whitefish. There were several pieces of deep-fried filet; what was left of the fish after these had been removed (minus the head) -- mainly the skeleton, fins and tail -- was also breaded and fried, and served. The server told me you could eat this part if you were careful, and you could -- it was almost like eating potato chips. Actually, that was my favorite part of the dish. I found the pieces of filet too bland, and the dipping sauce didn't help, even after I'd mixed the ball of "spicy radish" in, as my server recommended. I'm sure that it was very good as fish, though, and it was light and greasy.

    7. Mussels with miso sauce. Four mussels served in the shell and covered with a very dark, salty miso sauce. Good, though I'm not a big mussel fan.

    8. Rich's fish nabe, though my server called in Japanese hot pot, and mine had enoki mushrooms as well. I'll confess to being slightly intimidated by this hot liquid boiling away in front of me, contained only by a thin-looking layer of foil (the broth stopped bubbling after a few minutes, though it stayed hot). As to the dish itself, I initially tried picking the pieces of fish out of the broth with my chopsticks, but they didn't have much flavor that way, so I switched to eating them along with the broth, like soup, and that was a lot better.

    9. Dessert. The same as Rich's. My server told me that it was called zenzai, and was a very traditional Japanese dessert, and that the mochi-like rice dumplings were called shiratama. This was real comfort food, served hot, and not very sweet: a nice way to end a meal on a winter night.

    I have to confess that my final reaction was mixed. I thought that the first five courses were really impressive. But courses six to eight, while perfectly fine, felt to me too ordinary for such a major portion of a hundred-dollar dinner. (I think I'd have preferred to have had these courses interspersed among the others, rather than served in a block.) Having said that, though, I realize that the meal wasn't crafted to suit my tastes, but rather those of Japanese. And I don't think that the quality of the food has declined since my first meal, eaten before the Tribune review: rather, my expectations had been raised by that first meal.

    The settings and decor haven't changed since that first meal either, to the best of my recollection. The service was the same as before, too, though the owner did not put in an appearance. Vettel's review now requires registration which I don't feel like doing, so I don't know what his complaints about the service were, but I had no complaints, either last time or this time.

    I arrived at six (and left about seven thirty). When I got there, there were eight table settings laid out, including mine, and I'm wondering if that was the number of reservations they had for the night; while I was there, one other couple came in, also non-Japanese. I asked my server whether they had a lot more business since the Tribune review. She said they did, though a lot of the review was not too good (her words, to the best of my memory); but business was a lot better than before the review. (This makes me wonder why they don't at least upgrade their chopsticks, if they know the pull-apart ones put people off: better chopsticks can't be that expensive.)

    Incidentally, they now have an a la carte menu. But it's a very basic menu, intended solely to handle walk-ins; it doesn't include any of the elaborate dishes that are part of the kaiseki.
  • Post #72 - January 4th, 2006, 10:29 pm
    Post #72 - January 4th, 2006, 10:29 pm Post #72 - January 4th, 2006, 10:29 pm
    To follow up on what Ann Mentioned, Matsumoto does have a new a la carte menu. From Metromix

    Though it's taking the month of January off, this Albany Park spot will be a great spot for February fondue. Known for its highly seasonal, multicourse kaiseki menus, they recently launched an a la carte menu that includes hot pots. Look for choices like sake kasunabe with salmon, tofu, daikon radish, burdock (a sweet and mild root), green onions and kikuna (chrysanthemum); or go for the shirakonabe with codfish soft roe, four kinds of mushrooms and kabu (white turnip). Both come on a custom-made tabletop stone "stove"; the no-work hot pot is served ready to eat ($15). Make a reservation a day ahead if you want shabu shabu; premium choices here include Wagyu sirloin or prime rib-eye ($35-$50 per person).

    I have to say that I could do worse than a mid-winter Wagyu shabu shabu. (Ain't that a mouthful?) :)