Phil Vettel reviews Momotaro

CHICAGO, Ill. -- Momotaro is a Japanese restaurant with many facets. There is the upstairs dining room, whose bar is a subtle homage to the Tokyo stock exchange. There is the downstairs Izakaya, with its lounge-y lighting and posters, meant to evoke a Tokyo back alley.

There's a very good sushi bar, with a wide range of sushi, maki rolls and sashimi. But for me the real draw are the robata dishes executed by chef Gene Kato.

The default robata choices would be chicken and steak, but dig a little deeper; try the quail, served with a soft-poached quail egg and a sauce made from the roasted bones; this three-way expression is especially flavorful. Gyutan sounds more appealing than “beef tongue,” but that's what it is, and don't be scared off; in Kato's hands, this is a particularly tender and tasty cut of meat.

You can even try a little do-it-yourself robata via the yakiniku, a selection of raw A5 Japanese wagu,  American wagyu and gyutan– you remember what that is – that arrives with a tabletop robata grill and various condiments. Take your time with this dish; the meats cook in seconds, but you want to linger over the flavors, and enjoy that heavenly aroma, for as long as you can.

The Momotaro oyster  is a must try; it's presented beautifully on shaved ice. The in-shell oyster sits on a bed of sliced cucumber, surrounded by a dashi and vinegar jell and topped with caviar.

From the Izakaya menu, excellent dishes include the fried chicken, boneless with a yuzu kosho dipping sauce; and tea-smoked duck breast.

Desserts are very good. The Momotaro crunch are chocolate wafers with matcha-ganache fillings, dusted with matcha powder. My favorite is the omiyage, which is a Japanese word describing a souvenir. It consists of a hand-sized pineapple pie, a sort of cheffy version of a McDonald's hot-apple pie, accompanied by a cute ceramic owl, inside of which sits pineapple sorbet.

I give Momotaro, 820 West Lake Street, three stars. This is the most complete, and best, Japanese restaurant in Chicago.

 

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