Praised as Chicago Tribune's #2 restaurant in Chicago 2016, an Esquire best new restaurant 2015, and as a top Japanese restaurant in America by TimeOut, Momotaro has become a top spot to for fine dining in the city.
Momotaro's famed chefs Mark Hellyar, who leads the contemporary efforts in the kitchen, and his team set up in the Fulton Market District, bringing modern Japanese cuisine to the West Loop.
As you can imagine, there has been a lot of hype around Momotaro, and the intricate as well as inventive dishes they serve. So I thought it was about time for me to make a trip over to the West side and try things for myself. To watch my experience in real time, click the video!
We started off by ordering a couple of drinks from the bar. I ordered the Murakami Daiquiri which was equal parts beautiful and delicious. 9/10 I believe would recommend...and the 10th does not like citrus. My sister ordered the Mom-Rita and it was not a table favorite. Based on a very strong creyente mezcal, make sure you enjoy the smokey flavors of a mezcal before you order this drink. Not bad by any means, but simply alarming if you are not expecting it.
I had the opportunity to try quite a few different dishes on the menu. Starting off with the Tsukune. This tapas like/appetizer dish comes from the robata section of the kitchen (Robata is a Japanese method of cooking, like barbecuing, where the food is skewered and then grilled slowly over charcoals). Tsukune is ground chicken meatballs, quail eggs, and a citrus garnish to top it off. I found the flavors of this dish to be interesting but not particularly flavorful. The chicken was well prepared, but seemed to lack as many savory flavors as I imagined it would.
Next up, the Shortrib Meatballs. These are prepared with ground beef short rib, foie gras, karashi mayo and cucumber pickle. Things were looking up at this part of the meal. Also another robata item, I found the shortrib to be much more flavorful and interesting to my palate. The mayo sauce was an excellent touch that helped to draw out other flavors in the meat. I did find that the foie gras seemed a little to overwhelming in ratio to the short rib, but all together this was a dish I would recommend trying out!
Round three was "palate cleansing mode" with the Una-Kyu makimono. This sushi roll contains barbequed eel, cucumber, avocado, and yuzu kosho. I enjoyed this roll, as the eel was prepared nicely and it had a kind of melt in your mouth affect. That being said there still seemed to be a lack of wow factor that I expected.
On to round four, we tried out the Curry Udon. Made with futo udon noodles and heritage pork curry, this dish was bursting with the flavors that I had been looking for all night! By far my favorite plate that I had tried so far the udon was satisfying in presentation, taste, and its ability to make you full. It was the must substantial plate yet. The sushi is good, but I began to realize that the specialty of Momotaro seemed to be in the hot plates from the kitchen.
Last but certainly not least, the night ended with a tasting of two desserts. The summer berry Kakigori and the Sesame Kurondaiku, The Kakigori is made with coconut shaved ice, blueberry ice cream, and raspberry (boba-like) pearls. This is what I consider the epitome of a summer dessert, as it is both light and refreshing while maintaining rich flavors that nearly resemble a tropical summers evening. The Kurondaiku became a personal favorite for me. Made with salted caramel ice cream, brownie, crème fraïche, and a whiskey sauce. I found this dessert to be equally refreshing as the kakigori, but with a slightly heavier feel. It came a cross as timeless and an enjoyable ending to any meal.
The service at Momotaro is essentially "hit or miss". Upon arriving our interactions with the service at the restaurant were abysmal. It set off the evening on a pretty appalling note. You can learn more about my interactions with the hostess/initial staff in the dine with me video above.
Luckily, things took a positive turn once we were seated for the second time in a section where we had a terrific waiter. He was extremely helpful, attentive, and had mastered the art of knowing how to guide our dining experience. Additionally, the waitstaff that would bring out the dishes from the kitchen to explain them to us we amazing, helpful, and wonderfully detail oriented.
The overall aura of Momotaro is very enjoyable. I was particularly a fan of the playlist that had going on in the background. Two new (or at least new to me) finds that I would like to highlight include: Never Growing Up by Monteur & Dark Days by Local Natives - Classixx Remix.
The large windows allow for natural light to stream in beautifully, the bar area is sleek as well as elegant, and I love the aesthetics of their high beam ceiling. Altogether, the area flows well as a relatively open space.
I recommend making a trip out to Momotaro. While the my experience did not live up to the hype, I do believe that it is a place to try out dishes you can't easily find in other parts of the city.