Review: Surprises await at Kyatchi - even hot dogs

RICK NELSON | Updated 5/22/2014

In a baseball-loving environment, a talented crew at Kyatchi pulls off an eclectic menu of sushi, ramen and, yes, hot dogs.

Until Kyatchi came along earlier this year, it seemed inconceivable that my frugal Scandinavian self would ever happily fork over $9 for a hot dog. Never underestimate the source of personal growth, right?

That I would find enlightenment from a hot dog-loving Japanese chef comes right out of left field. Pun (embarrassingly) intended, as chef Hide Tozawa is a baseball zealot — which explains the jerseys, bats and cleats peppering his dining room — and a stickler for quality.

The beef for these snappy-skinned weiners hails from the go-to source for probably half of the premium burgers in this town: Peterson Limousin Beef in Osceola, Wis., and their recipe follows a robust formula that’s more mini-brat than Ball Park Frank.

Rather than resorting to mustard, ketchup or sauerkraut, Tozawa is currently blanketing those frankfurters one of three ways. One is smothered in a slightly sweet curried slaw, and another piles on the chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and onions and a swipe of umami-laden Kewpie mayonnaise, a Japanese supermarket staple.

Both are $8, and terrific, but for a buck more you’ll dive into be-all-end-all turf. A dream of an egg salad — that smooth, slightly sweet mayo is the transformative ingredient, and I want to slap it on everything — spills out of the bun, topped with cool avocado slices. It’s as ungainly as it is delicious, and a steal at $9.

Ditto the sushi. Because Tozawa goes to great lengths to source from certified sustainable seafood purveyors, the prices tend to exceed the market average. But it’s worth the investment. The notably pristine fish radiates quality, with the added benefit that it can be consumed with a relatively clear conscience.

That’s just one way this sushi bar delineates itself from the bulk of its competition. Its classicism is another. Those with a hankering for a Dynamite roll should dine elsewhere. Here, the prevailing aesthetic is far more ascetic.

Tozawa and his crew carve glimmering arctic char or buttery hamachi with a couturier’s precision and artistry, and their prowess and passion are a pleasure to behold. By swatting away the distracting folderol that has become the norm across our sushi landscape, they’re giving the fish the dignity it is due.

The menu features a dozen or so standards, but better to place your appetite in the hands of the changes-daily combination platter. Its inventory is subject to seasonal rhythms, and each gracefully arranged assortment emphasizes how this spare, fastidious approach to nigiri and sashimi echoes the revelatory paper cutouts that Matisse created at the end of his long career.

It’s the fish in its most elemental form, an experience reduced to nuances in texture, color and flavor. The minimalist add-ons — sticky rice, punchy wasabi and palate-cleansing ginger — are perfectly pleasant but frequently unnecessary.

The sushi-phobic — and the anti-hot dog crowd — definitely have a place at the Kyatchi (KEY-ah-chee) table.

Pretty much anything having to do with chicken is a must-order, whether it’s the grilled skewers of richly flavored thighs, or the miss-at-your-peril meatballs, their heft accented by hints of ginger and miso. Then there are the bowls filled with a steaming chicken broth, golden and lovingly prepared, an ideal foundation for slurpy ramen and a slab of salty pork shimmering with fat. Wonderful.

Other carefully considered touches impress. Noodles — thin udon, or thickish soba — are chosen for their obvious merits. A fragrant dashi broth — a vehicle for a parade of mushrooms — radiated a smoky earthiness. Tozawa turns to the Petersons for the beef that he barely sears and slices thin, its velvety goodness contrasted by the mild punch of finely grated daikon and pops of sour ponzu.