I wonder what the Polish immigrants who probably once inhabited the compact Bucktown cottage at 1952 N. Damen would make of its transformation into Takashi, chef Takashi Yagihashis French-Asian synthesis. Dimly lit and battleship gray, the restaurant is cozy without being cramped, and a trip to the restroom provides a startlingly intimate look into the kitchen—you might stop short at the sight of the chef hard at work (golly, hes not just a Beard Award winner with a Michelin star to boot, hes . . . hes human!). There are a number of irresistible keywords on the menu, things Id probably order anywhere—duck fat, pork belly, sweetbreads—and a few I might instinctively avoid in a pricey place like this. But even a trio of small, cold tofu squares carries the potential for surprise and delight, dressed with seaweed, eggplant "caviar," and raw okra and smoky marinated shimeji and enoki mushrooms. Another surprise, a konbu-marinated fluke sashimi appetizer garnished with a thread of saffron and a garlic chip, stirred up some controversy in my group, but I thought it worked just fine. There were no surprises where the well-prepared duck-fat-fried chicken or crispy, juicy veal sweetbreads were concerned, but their respective foils—spicy, slightly pickled cabbage slaw and cream-kissed green peppercorn sauce—made all the difference in the world. A wild striped bass with more tiny shimeji mushrooms was bathed in a savory broth that came with its own spoon, and pork belly with steamed buns, mizuna, pickled daikon, and a dollop of mustard reminded me of one the greatest sandwiches Ive ever had, at a now defunct Chinatown restaurant.
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