Regional Dining Guide

Shogun and Izakaya 88: A Modern Twist on Japanese Cuisine

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The newest addition to this longtime favorite takes a new spin on the Japanese restaurant as we know it. See what sets these twins apart.

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An expanded menu, a youthful attitude and a sleek expansion have contributed to success at Shogun Japanese Restaurant and Izakaya 88, 293 Executive Parkway, near the intersection of Mulford Road and State Street, in Rockford.

Shogun expanded more than a year ago to make room for Izakaya 88, which offers small-plate dining options, signature cocktails, and a variety of sake and craft beers, in an upbeat lounge atmosphere.

The term “Izakaya” is a combination of two Japanese words: “I” meaning “to stay” and “sakaya” meaning “sake shop.” Rockford’s Izakaya 88 is a casual place that appeals to young professionals and the after-work crowd, with a focus on the inventive dishes of Chef Macku Chan.

“People like the environment,” says Addison Jun, general manager of Shogun Japanese Restaurant. “It gives the restaurant, as a whole, an entirely different feel, with a spacious setting and more options for larger groups and entertainment. Nowadays, people are a lot more open to trying new and different foods because of travel and what they find on the Internet and television.”

The spacious atmosphere at Izakaya 88 features an open kitchen, crisp modern lines, a splash paint mural, window pane room dividers, and neutral decor, with accents of red and turquoise. In a departure from traditional Japanese furnishings, comfy sofas surround a coffee table and chairs circle bistro-style dining tables.

There’s also a new way to get take-out food from Shogun. The CurbUp app allows smartphone users to have their take-out order delivered to their cars, at no extra cost. The customer places an order by phone and the merchant sends the customer a text message stating when the food will be ready. When the customer arrives and clicks on the text message, the merchant receives the message and brings out the food. The new service begins this fall.

Many of the same foods prepared at Shogun can be ordered at Izakaya 88, in addition to more globally influenced dishes like nested fries, and tacos made with Korean Beef, fish, shrimp or pork. The menu includes a variety of wings, seafood, veggies, rice, meat, soups, noodles and desserts. Happy hour is from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Local talent performs karaoke every Friday and Saturday. Occasionally, comedians and other performers provide live entertainment. During the week, the Izakaya 88 space can be rented out for business meetings or private parties.

Those who enjoy traditional Japanese-style cooking find much to enjoy in the original Shogun dining room. The restaurant features a cafe, bar and lounge area, banquet room and dining room with 17 teppanyaki tables. “Teppan” means “iron plate” and “yaki” means “grilled, broiled or pan fried.” The propane-fueled flat surfaces are used to cook food at high temperatures, in plain view of guests. The solid surface is best for working with small ingredients like eggs, rice, diced meat and finely chopped vegetables. The style of cooking is not to be confused with hibachi barbecue grills, which use a charcoal or gas flame inside an open-grate design.

Watching the food being cooked is not the only entertainment, Jun says.

“Chefs are very personable with the customers and the patrons like that interaction,” he says. “The entertainment never gets old. Chefs are constantly working on new tricks and ways to keep people entertained.” For example, the chef can control the flame for a dramatic flare-up or carry a flame on his hand. Eggs are tossed around “like soccer balls,” bounced off the chef’s knee or caught in his chef’s hat.

“Customers like to see their food being cooked,” Jun says. “They know it’s fresh and it can’t get to you any quicker than having the meal made right in front of you. We’re constantly working to maintain the high quality of food we offer, and that means keeping current with what’s happening on farms and what distributors are carrying. We’re always interested in better products – not cheaper products – and so we have to keep asking questions, because we’re not looking for value, but quality, even if we have to go out of our way to get it.”

Born in America, Jun has been in the Japanese restaurant business all his life. “I like how everything changes with new customers, new conversation and the spontaneity of each new day,” he says.

Shogun is open for lunch Mon.-Sat from 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and for dinner Mon.-Thurs. 4:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m., Fri. and Sat. to 11 p.m. Sunday hours are 4:30-9:30 p.m. Izakaya 88 is open for dinner only, Mon.-Thurs. 4:30-10:30 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 4:30 p.m.-midnight and Sun. 4:30-9:30 p.m.

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