By Dante Vaisbort
Where it’s at: 820 W. Lake Street in the West Loop. MomotaroChicago.com
The scene: Momotaro’s massive state-of-the-art complex is a brisk walk from the city center and urban nightlife. The award-winning restaurant is divided into two sections: the main restaurant on floors one and two, which features multiple sushi bars and robata (charcoal grills). Beneath the restaurant lies the subterranean Izakaya, featuring a 30-seat bar with decor inspired by the Tokyo street scene.
Food and drink: I began my meal with a Japanese staple: miso soup topped elegantly with fried tofu wedges and mushroom caps. Momotaro’s take on standard hors d’oeuvres are demonstrably high-class. After whetting my appetite with miso, I proceeded to devour a juicy, traditional robata-cooked wagyu steak skewer. The flavors of the skewer were robust, and mingled well with the other dishes.
Even Momotaro’s more conceptual dishes are understandable and approachable, yet still indicative of artisanal craft — and delicious.
For my main course, I ordered the chahan, a curious take on beef fried rice. It was brought to me in a hot stone bowl, with a whole fried egg sitting uncracked in the center. I cracked the egg and eagerly mixed it in, and although it was quite good, it paled in comparison to the outstanding nature of the wagyu skewers.
My friend ordered the curry udon with pork and, impressed with the balance achieved between flavor and spiciness, slurped it up with surprising speed, complimenting the proportion of noodles to meat despite being thrown off a bit by the texture.
Sushi, a staple at most any Japanese restaurant, also carries a strong presence at Momotaro. However, while Momotaro offers a solid selection of quality sushi, the restaurant should not be confused with a traditional sushi bar. The fish we ordered was impeccably fresh, and the rolls were thoughtfully constructed, though the sushi is not a standout when compared to some of the restaurant’s other sumptuous offerings.
What caught our eye: Staff members encourage you to share a broad assortment of dishes, using a medley of orders to construct a well-rounded meal. Momotaro is thus an attractive choice for groups of adventurous eaters seeking a formal night out. The restaurant itself is softly lit and beautiful, and waitstaff patient and knowledgeable.
We’ll be back because: Momotaro marries traditional Japanese cuisine and contemporary culinary techniques quite well. The restaurant has certainly earned its reputation as a fine-dining sensation, while still embracing some of the more welcome elements of commercial eating. Even Momotaro’s more conceptual dishes are understandable and approachable, yet still indicative of artisanal craft — and delicious. The restaurant is a well-oiled machine, as the service, timing of dish delivery, and atmosphere made for an excellent experience.