CHICAGO, Ill. -- Chicago has experienced a recent boom in omakase restaurants. Loosely translated to “chef's choice,” omakase restaurants are spare and intimate, where a handful of guests experience a progression of dishes designed and delivered before their eyes.
Kyoten opened five months ago in Logan Square; chef and owner Otto Phan had a very successful restaurant in Austin, Texas, but he moved to Chicago – and he's not shy about saying so – to increase his national profile.
The strategy may work, because Kyoten delivers the most exhilarating sushi experience in the city. It's not just because of the chef's culinary skills; it's also his way of communicating what he's doing with each and every bite. And in the course of a dinner, you'll get a dozen or more of those.
He'll typically begin the omakase with something simple, like a rich and unctuous ocean trout. People think of sushi as a delicate cuisine, but Phan's nigiri pieces are downright robust.
Next you might receive octopus, gently cooked and super-tender, above a mix of torched avocado and ponzu sauce. Tuna, in this case bluefin akami, is gently cured with alderwood smoke for a subtle flavor enhancement.
Pure-white flounder is seasoned with Japanese fish sauce and a little olive oil; the sweet-shrimp nigiri is made with Alabama red shrimp, which Phan maintains is the best around.
Spanish mackerel is thick cut grilled on one side – Phan says the single-side grilling makes the fish more interesting. Shima aji, or striped horse mackerel, is dry-aged in-house.
One of the highlights is A5 wagyu beef, dry-aged and lightly grilled and brushed with aged tenderloin fat. That one bite will be one of the best things you'll ever eat.
I give Kyoten, 2507 West Armitage Avenue, three stars. At $220 per person, this is a very expensive omakase experience, but it's an unforgettable one.