Momotaro (820 W. Lake St.) is a Japanese restaurant that balances authenticity and contemporary style perfectly. Located in the Fulton Market District right off the CTA Green Line Morgan stop, Momotaro occupies the corner of Lake Street and Green Street on the opposite side of Begyle Brewing. A few friends and I agreed we should celebrate my roommate’s birthday with a fancy dinner, albeit a little late (sorry Megan). Her only request was that the restaurant served Japanese food, and that’s how our journey began.
As we exited our ride, I noticed wooden panels surrounded by enormous glass doors as the sun began its descent behind the repurposed industrial buildings. A small staircase welcomed us as the bar caught my eye. The bar is built around sleek wood and complemented by washed stone panels. A billboard floats above dozens of bottles of liquor, displayed with their prices in both dollars and yen. We’re whisked away toward the Japanese grill.
Our server, Nam, warmly introduced himself and explained Momotaro has a dedicated robatayaki and a sushi station. Robatayaki is a Japanese style of cooking similar to grilling with charcoal. It utilizes three vertical grills to control the temperature to which the food is exposed.
Everyone who knows me would know when Nam was speaking my eyes were speed-reading the cocktail menu. I imagined how each drink is going to taste and land on an interesting one. The Toki Highball, ginger beer with Japanese whiskey is loaded into its draft system and served with a grapefruit peel. Sign me up.
The highball was a party in a glass. Bubbles danced, ice shimmered and the faint whiskey hue was elevated by the subtle presence of ginger. It’s a crisp and refreshing libation suited for any occasion.
Our meal began with sushi. I was presented a grey stone-like bowl with a flat lid, which masked the treasure it held underneath. As the lid was lifted, a cloud of smoke soared into the open air. A soft aroma of earth and trees filled our table and a dense fog began to dissipate away from the bowl, revealing the sushi.
Nam explained the smoke is from an incense made from a fallen cypress tree. This nigiri was made with aji, horse mackerel — very soft and buttery in texture and with a pleasant smoked flavor. I dipped the second one with house-made soy sauce which had me jumping in my seat.
My next plate arrived and my tongue began to water. The rice was decorated with tuna, A5 Japanese Wagyu beef, shrimp and sea urchin. A barrage of sensations hit my soul as I chewed the perfect bite. The Wagyu melted as the shrimp’s butteriness enveloped the freshness of the uni. I don’t cry often, especially in public, but I cried after eating this. A5 Wagyu is honestly the best red meat anyone can eat. The fattiness allows the meat to melt yet retain the full flavor of the beef. It’s rich, delicate and utterly perfect.
Our time at Momotaro ended with dessert, of course. Our table shared a bowl of shaved ice served with dehydrated orange slices and citrus jelly cubes. Tart yet sweet, the shaved ice was soft and the crunch from the oranges was a pleasant experience on the palate.
Being the glutton I am, I ordered pineapple sorbet and pineapple pie for myself. The pie was wrapped in black parchment and tied with a golden ribbon. The ice cream was housed in a type of Russian nesting doll made to look like a penguin.
This meal was the best I’ve had in a long time. The fact this food made me emotional to the point of crying is beyond me. When I eat, I eat with all of my senses and this dinner was no exception. The presentation of dishes was elegant, the smells in your face, the taste unrivaled and the textures intriguing. Momotaro is now one of my favorite restaurants, and this isn’t an easy feat to achieve.
Megan’s birthday is always a special occasion to me. She’s a big sister to me and I would do anything for her. That’s why I’m willing to spend $360 on a birthday meal for her. Granted, this was with four people, drinks and a ton of food. More information on the restaurant can be found on Momotaro’s website, www.momotarochicago.com. Get ready to be blown away.