In just a year, Momotaro has already established itself as one of Chicago’s finest Japanese eateries.
By Christine Huang
Photo by Huge Galdones
One of the most elegant eateries in the Windy City, Momotaro has been around for just under a year. The establishment represents the thirteenth successful collaboration between Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz, who co-founded the celebrated Boka Restaurant Group.
Momotaro features traditional Japanese cuisine—mostly. The founders describe the ratio of traditional to modern influences as 90/10. The seven-page menu includes sushi, robata, and more, and the Mission Statement printed at the end explains that much of their fish supply is procured directly from Japan, as “the unrivaled quality of Japanese fish came from its nutrient rich waters, making it the most desirable fish in the world.”
Chefs Jeff Ramsey and Mark Hellyar bring their impressive chops to this stellar restaurant. Ramsey is the first American-born chef to earn a Michelin star in Japan, and Hellyar was the executive chef of the first certified organic restaurant in the United States.
Momotaro, which was listed in Eater Chicago’s heatmap of hottest new restaurants, is three stories tall with a boardroom-inspired lounge in the basement, sleek dining space on the main floor, and private rooms upstairs.
Photo by Barry Brecheisen
Dishes at Momotaro are designed to be shared. The “From the Coals” section features many of the restaurant’s hidden gems. Start with the Smoked Bacon & Eggs, which includes two skewers of delicate quail eggs marinated in soy sauce and wrapped in whisper-thin sheets of bacon. A drizzle of maple syrup transforms an already-lovely combination into a divine one.
Photo by Megan Swann
Be sure to also try the terrific Baby Ika; the tender, semi-translucent, and lightly-smoked squid pairs perfectly with the accompanying ink aioli. The dark horse of the Coals section is the Japanese Shiitake. One of the most unassuming items on the menu, the Shiitake is easy to overlook, especially when the menu is this expansive. But the Shiitake mushrooms at Momotaro, also served in the form of two simple skewers, are guaranteed to impress carnivores and vegetarians alike. The rich, buttery mushrooms boast an impressive depth of flavor, and are phenomenal whether enjoyed alone or with the shiso ohba marinade.
The showstopper of the sushi section is the Aji Yakusugi—a genuine treat for eyes and taste buds alike. Two pieces of mackerel are served alongside a decorative heap of thousand-year-old cypress shavings. The incense from the cypress drifts into the mackerel, lending it a smoky, delicate fragrance. The result? Melt-in-your-mouth fish that tastes (trust me) like a rose petal.
Photo by Derek Richmond
Other menu highlights include the Chili Mentaiko Spaghetti and the Curry Udon. Mentaiko Spaghetti is a Tokyo invention that blends Italian ingredients with Japanese flavors. Momotaro’s take on the dish is at once creamy and light. Chili spiked roe adds just a touch of heat. The Curry Udon, one of the most filling dishes on the menu, is comfort food at its best and most refined. The al-dente udon noodles soak up the rich, warm flavors of the ground heritage pork curry and shishito peppers.
Momotaro is a glorious new addition not only to the Boka Restaurant Group, but also to Chicago’s already-vibrant culinary scene.
***Momotaro 820 West Lake St. Chicago IL 60607 (312) 733-4818
Christine Huang is a contributing writer at Honest Cooking. She recently graduated from the University of Chicago, where she discovered that her love of books was only rivaled by her love of food.