I have to admit that I was skeptical about Momotaro when I first heard about it. It looked like a fancy Japanese restaurant run by non-Japanese people catering to a yuppy demographic with a menu including everything from sushi, izakaya, and teriyaki. I’ve commonly heard that restaurants in Japan tend to specialize in just one thing and those that try to do curry and sushi or udon and ramen don’t tend to be very good. That has been the sense with most of these types of restaurants I’ve seen in the US, but I have to say that this one completely surprised me. The food was absolutely excellent and I left feeling pretty full but definitely looking forward to my next visit… soon.
This was bluefin tuna sashimi mixed with wakame, a cucumber-miso dressing, and a few rice crisps for some added texture. The miso dressing was light, flavorful but did not mask the freshness of the tuna. A very tasty start to the meal.
Tossed in a sweet sesame soy dressing, the organic broccoli made for a very delicious salad.
The addition of nopales (which I believe is cactus) added a different texture and taste beyond the Hawaiian seaweed and konbu making for a more interesting version of a seaweed salad. It was light and quite refreshing.
The best and average tartares tend to have a very similar flavor profile which is sesame and soy sauce based, but I really have to praise this particular take on tuna tartare. Using Japanese sweet tomato, maui onion and shiso, there was a creamier sweet and sour like taste which is not something I’ve ever had with tuna tartare. It was absolutely delectable!
Similar to the Momotaro Tartare, this version of Age Dashi Tofu was unlike any other I’ve tried. Mainly it was because the tofu was fried which I think Hubster’s cousin found odd, but I liked it. I think I’m used to the different texture and the mizuna and sweet soy dashi still lent the familiar sauce that one expects with agedashi tofu.
Not sure if I have ever had tuna cheek before, but the succulence was unlike any other tuna I had ever had. It had a fattiness on par with toro but more depth of flavor. Delicious!
I am already a big fan of Mentaiko spaghetti, but it actually is not easy to find probably because it is so easy to make this at home. This version had a little kick with chili spiked roe which was really quite subtle on the spice, but the same creamy umami that I thoroughly loved. I truly wished I could have ordered another one just for myself.
This was the most unexpected dish of the evening. Being described as “everything spring fried rice”, this dish did not immediately sing to me, but Hubster’s cousin was intrigued by the mention of pickled ramps, so we went ahead and ordered. It was astonishingly delicious. There was so much flavor and freshness in each bite that for a second, I thought maybe I could become a vegetarian. It was a fleeting thought because I know it isn’t easy or typical for vegetarian food to taste this delicious.
Instead of chicken karaage, we decided to go to for the squid. Yes, it pretty much tasted like what you’d expect for fried squid with its chili mentaiko mayo dip but I still liked it.
These were Jidori chicken hearts with house yuzu kosho. Well-flavored and tender, these skewers tasted pretty much like dark meat chicken.
These skewers of ground beef short rib tasted fine, but the granular texture of the meat was a little odd. It was a little too soft, like it wasn’t meant to be made into grounded meat.
When top was removed from the bowl as it was brought to the table, a cloud of smoke literally wafted out from the bowl and revealed 2 pieces of aji nigiri sitting with a piece of burning 1000 year old cypress. The smokiness in the aji was powerful and pungent but absolutely perfect.
Asian desserts tend to be lighter than French or American desserts but with that lightness tends to be a lack of anything which makes you want to eat a dessert in the first place. The Japanese somehow have an ability to take the best of French technique to create light but still equally delectable cakes and pastries. This Shittori cake was a prime example of that with the fresh berries perfectly accenting the slightly sweet spongey cake. The Greek yogurt sorbet was remarkably refreshing and topped the whole dessert off quite nicely.
I had no idea what Wakamomo was but the waiter highly recommended it. The baby green peaches are poached in syrup so they actually taste quite sweet with a firmness and texture that reminded me of a frozen grape in a way. The sorbet was also peach flavored and the almond crumble was exactly what you needed to give this deconstructed dessert a little bit of crunch. I can’t describe how much I really loved this dessert.
Overall, I was unexpectedly delighted with all the food that we had. I would argue that it is on par with the likes of Morimoto or Nobu, and quite possibly even better in some regards such as the desserts. My one critique probably was that the portions are actually quite small which made it perfect for our group of 4 to try a little bit of everything. However, some of the dishes were so good that I wished there was more of it and with the price associated with each tiny dish, you can ring up quite a bill before you start feeling full. I think it is a great place to go with a group of friends who love to eat, and I would highly recommend it for anyone visiting Chicago. Aside from the meal itself, another highlight of the evening was seeing Chicago’s own celebrity chef, Rick Bayless, come in to enjoy a meal there as well. That must say something for such an esteemed member of the Chicago’s food scene to be there as well.
820 W. Lake St.
Chicago, IL 60607
PAFO Ratings for Momotaro:
Ambiance 4 stars
Food 4½ stars
Overall rating 4 stars