Chicago’s a prideful city when it comes to food. We brag about our steakhouses, we laugh at deep dish haters, and don’t get us started on hot dogs. But when it comes to sushi, we’re a little insecure - because deep down, we know that LA and New York have us beat. It’s impossible to compete with all their top-tier spots, not to mention the way they rub their oceans in our faces. Now that Kyoten is here, though, we can finally stand up to other cities’ fancy sushi scenes.
Kyoten is omakase-only, and a meal here costs $220 (including tax and tip). This puts it in the same price category as the other most expensive tasting menu spots in the city. And while it’s not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, you get what you pay for in the form of 20 interesting and delicious courses - so at no point will you wonder where all your money went.
For one thing, dinner at Kyoten is an experience. Space-wise it’s like a gallery, with tall ceilings, minimally decorated walls, and a seven-person sushi bar dominating the room. And you should come prepared to hear the chef’s commentary on everything - from the fish, to the different curing/aging/butchering techniques he uses, to ideas he stole from a chef in Japan (like the decision to use large-grained rice). Rather than coming across like an intrusive and obnoxious Cooking Channel demonstration, this transparency is refreshing and fun. Partly because what you’re eating is so good, you’ll be genuinely interested in finding out why.
As far as the actual menu goes, you can count on expertly prepared nigiri (like shima aji, akamai, and saba), along with some impressive hot dishes. For example, a piece of fried tilefish with caviar and creme fraiche - basically an elegant (and delicious) fish stick. Or uni risotto with foie gras sauce, topped with another piece of uni. There’s even a dish of rendered beef fat poured over rice and covered with a pile of shaved white truffles, which is better than what you’ll find at your average Chicago steakhouse. And throughout, the heavily seasoned rice plays a key role. It doesn’t overwhelm the seafood - different batches with varying amounts of vinegar are made specifically for certain courses. Overall, by the time your night here is over, you’ll be trying to figure out how soon you can afford to come back.
When a Chicagoan talks to a non-Chicagoan about a favorite sushi place in the city, there’s usually a qualifier (and an unasked-for geography lesson) about being in the Midwest. But Kyoten doesn’t need any of those caveats. It would be an impressive restaurant no matter where it was located. In fact, we can’t wait to take our friends from LA and New York here - or, at least, to fully believe ourselves when we say, “Yes, this place is better than the one in the West Village you won’t stop talking about.”
The offerings at Kyoten change regularly, but this is an example of what you can expect.
The lean tuna is smoked with alder wood, which gives it a light smokiness.
The mackerel is aged for a week and a half, and seared on one side. A week and a half in sushi years might sound unappetizing, but the fish tastes fantastic.
This butter-poached shrimp is sweet and tender.
The monkfish liver is really creamy, and unagi sauce gives it a little sweetness.
There’s so much caviar on this fried piece of fish it’s almost obnoxious, but we’re not complaining.
This risotto is the color of Cheetos and tastes like the ocean. It’s wonderful.
The whole red snapper is butchered in front of you, and then you’ll see it made into sashimi with olive oil and a yuzu vinegar. This is simple and delicious.
This tuna is cut so that it’s completely smooth. So it’s basically fish butter.
The toro is seared on charcoal. It brings out the flavor, and texture-wise the fish melts on your tongue.
The tamago at Kyoten is almost like a moist pound cake - our only complaint is that it isn’t the size of an actual piece of pound cake.
Fresh fruit in plum wine, with honey. It’s like something Cleopatra would have been served at the end of a feast, and we’re fine with it.