This fall, an impressive women-led team will bring Yūgen—a modern-fine dining experience—to Chicago’s premier dining district at 652 W. Randolph St. Helmed by Executive Chef Mari Katsumura, the restaurant will feature contemporary Japanese cuisine in a striking, reimagined space.
A culmination of things led Mari Katsumura to her position heading the kitchen of the new Yūgen restaurant in Chicago. When she spoke with FSR in December 2018, the restaurant was just a month old, but it felt as if her life had been leading up to this position.
For the winter holiday season, there is nothing better than a weighty, rich white wine like chardonnay from Burgundy to curl up with. Every time I taste one, it takes me back to my first time tasting Burgundy as a curious young server working at a French bistro in Chelsea, New York City, named Montmartre.
The dining room was redesigned in earth and jewel tones and what Katsumura called Zen touches, including a living greenery wall. Tables in dark charcoal wood convey a sense of minimalism.
Katsumura is known primarily for her pastry chef work in Chicago, but she doesn’t lack for savory experience; she was sous-chef at Entente and executive sous at Gideon Sweet (and served as pastry chef at both restaurants).
Yūgen, one of America’s most-anticipated restaurants, now has an opening date and reservations are open. West Loopers can begin to sample executive chef Mari Katsumura’s fancy modern Japanese tasting menus next week on Tuesday, November 20 in the former Grace space at 652 W. Randolph Street. The restaurant will also offer a vegetarian option and staff are happy to work through dietary restrictions, according to a news release.
Yugen is unveiling a dual concept in the same vein as Smyth/the Loyalist. Workers have converted a space formerly used as Grace’s waiting area into a lounge that will be called Kaisho. It’s supposed to be like an informal izakaya.
Katsumura is a Chicago native who grew up working at her parents’ Lakeview restaurant, Yoshi’s Cafe. She’s gained her own acclaim making desserts as pastry chef at Blackbird, Acadia, Entente, and Gideon Sweet. Now she’s poised to lead her own restaurant.
Yūgen, the modern Japanese tasting menu restaurant in the West Loop, features a casual lounge. Kaisho is where patrons can wait for a table or taste small plates from chef Mari Kastumura.
Owner Michael Olszewski turned to Katsumura and his daughter — general manager Morgan Olszewski — to repair the space’s reputation in the West Loop. Katsumura grew up in the Chicago restaurant business, as her parents Yoshi and Nobuko Katsumura ran Yoshi’s Cafe — a Lakeview restaurant that blends Japanese and French cuisine.
The ex-Grace space lives on with a fancy new Japanese restaurant helmed by pastry-turned-savory maven Mari Katsumura.
The space where Grace used to be will now feature a restaurant run by the shuttered Michelin three-star restaurant’s former pastry chef Mari Katsumura. Coming over from Matthias Merges and Graham Elliot’s Gideon Sweet, Katsumura will be making her debut as an executive chef.
“Having a women-led team was intentional but also serendipitous,” Katsumura states. “When I came on, all the strong candidates happened to be female. We loved the idea and became very deliberate about it. It reflects the standard of excellence we envision the space to have. I could not be more excited.”
The restaurant will host two different concepts, allowing for itself to be a space that is playful and creative with menus. The 68-seat main dining room will provide a formal tasting menu while the front room will be a 16-seat cocktail lounge named Kaisho that has a la carte offerings from an entirely different menu.
I wanted to do something that was true to myself, that Chicago hasn’t seen before,” says Katsumura. Rather than putting together a contemporary menu with an Asian influence or a few Japanese ingredients, she came up with a few traditional Japanese dishes; her lineup progressed from there.
I am not exaggerating when I say there is simply nothing like Yūgen in Chicago. The thought first struck me when a friend, who was raised on traditional Chinese fare, exclaimed joyously that a bite of tonkatsu—a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet—was akin to something her mother would make. Executive chef Mari Katsumura wouldn’t be surprised. “I wanted to bring something to the table that felt very personal and authentic to me,” she says. “Something that people in the neighborhood could enjoy that I don’t think they’ve seen before.”
It’s no secret that women are making more and more of a mark in the food world. Both in and out of Chicago, female chefs, bartenders, restaurateurs, and managers are breaking the culinary glass ceiling in a big way. Because today marks International Women’s Day, we are highlighting just a few of the amazing women in the Chicago food world. For a taste of excellence, visit their restaurants and watch these women shine…
Yūgen is to be part of a certain magic evoked by poised equilibrium of excellent cuisine, inspiring design and unforgettable hospitality.
Experienced, warm hospitality will abound. Yūgen is to be guided through the dining experience with a touch that is at once knowledgeable and gracious.
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