Equal parts sophisticated seafood restaurant, innovative sushi bar, and downhome oyster joint, Shaw’s Crab House has something for seafood palates of all stripes. The chefs base the expansive menu on what’s in season and available fresh. Dishes might incorporate Lake Michigan whitefish, Atlantic yellowfin tuna, Nantucket Cape scallops, or Alaskan King crab. Just-shucked oysters hit plates in myriad varieties, from Nova Scotia to New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island, and star in the signature Oyster Shooter cocktail—a spicy concoction of an oyster, Absolut Peppar vodka, cocktail sauce, and Tabasco. Shaw’s sushi chef rolls specialty makis including the Godzilla roll, which combines tempura shrimp, avocado, barbecue eel, smoked salmon, and tobiko, and gives one the ability to roar blue flames. He also plates no-rice shari-nashi rolls, such as the spicy lobster roll, filled with Maine lobster and avocado.
As diners dig in at tables shrouded in crisp white cloths, the dining room plays host to blues-based live music, which fills the space every night of the week.
Backlit walls and dark wooden furniture create an air of hushed romanticism at Cocoro Sushi Restaurant—an especially fitting ambiance for an eatery whose name translates to “heart.” Since 1996, this chic River North spot has enticed taste-buds with not only a healthy selection of sushi, such as spicy scallop rolls and fresh yellowtail tuna, but also something a bit more unusual: shabu-shabu. The Japanese version of fondue, shabu-shabu puts diners in charge with a simmering pot of hot water and tender cuts of rib-eye beef and fresh vegetables, all waiting to be cooked, dipped in an assortment of sauces, and served over rice. The chef doesn’t leave all the work to customers, however; he also glazes chicken and salmon in teriyaki sauce, and sautés steak with garlic and shitake mushrooms.
“Japonais is a culinary experience that blends immense enjoyment with sturdy savoir faire,” declared former Chicago Sun-Times food critic Pat Bruno, writing of the sleek Asian eatery near the edge of the Chicago River. While one coexecutive chef, Jun Ichikawa, lends his expertise to the sushi side of the restaurant’s menu, the other, Gene Kato, designs its selection of hot plates. Together, they churn out traditional and modern dishes—such as the house-specialty Kobe prime rib and Le Quack Japonais, a house-smoked duck slathered in hoisin sauce and mango chutney—whose appeal led Condé Nast to name their establishment one of the top 66 restaurants in the world. Ingredients from both surf and turf star at the sushi bar, which serves options such as spicy king-crab nigiri and a Crazy Veggie roll that insists on wearing its lab coat and goggles at all times. As selections emerge from the kitchen, says Bruno, “the presentations … are elegant … the shapes and swoops of the plates are a feast for the eyes.” The two dining rooms at Japonais meld industrial Japanese design with a touch of European richness. Squares of gold velvet frame an oversize mirror that hangs over the Red Room, the restaurant’s more formal dining space. Across the hall, the Green Room’s slate-and-brick fireplace and whimsical tree centerpieces that occasionally don sweatpants add to its more relaxed atmosphere. Wavy ceiling panels and Lucite chandeliers accentuate the high ceilings that unite the two spaces, hanging over a staircase that leads downstairs to the riverwalk café. There, sheer drapery panels frame views of the Chicago River for those seated on pillow-laden couches and chairs. As they lounge, guests can sip specialty cocktails or enlist the top-shelf liquors to help them win gargling contests against the river.
When Miae Lim opened Mirai Sushi, she sought to create a lounge setting just as fashionable as the haute sushi dishes that would be served there, resulting in an ambiance which Frommer’s labels "decidedly youthful" and "funky-chic." It’s within this hip atmosphere that diners sup on the shareable plates and seasonal fish of a menu pioneered by master chef Jun Ichikawa. Like a working cold-fusion machine at an eighth-grade science fair, the menu’s shrimp-and-ginger dumplings and panko-breaded shrimp rolls attract praise; these and other dishes have earned the eatery inclusion on Gayot’s 2012 list of Top 10 Japanese Restaurants in Chicago. In the downstairs dining room, wooden tables and chairs gather around an L-shaped sushi bar. Upstairs, ambient light glows above low lounge seating, where diners sip imported Japanese beers or specialty cocktails made with sake and fresh fruit juices. Celebrities sometimes stop by, blending in with the hip crowd and dodging autograph requests from activists who think that famous people’s signatures count for double on petitions.
With a star-studded resume that includes stints in such media-acclaimed restaurants as Yoshi’s, Ambria, and Tribute—a Detroit-based eatery of his own that earned him a James Beard Award—it shouldn’t be surprising that Takashi Yagihashi’s latest culinary venture was a success. At his eponymous establishment, the chef crafts gourmet dishes inspired by his French culinary training and accented with the traditional flavors of his native Japan, creating a menu that has earned the restaurant a Michelin star and that Chicago Magazine called "the finest Asian fusion cuisine in the city." In a spartan dining room adorned with subtle art and slate-colored brick, diners savor entrees such as chicken in a clay pot simmering with shimeji mushrooms, eggplant, and yuzu juice, or soy-ginger caramel pork belly served with steamed buns. Yagihashi also highlights his versatility in a number of prix-fixe menus, such as the weekly 7 or 11-course Kaiseki dinner and a tasting menu that pairs each morsel with a complementary wine. While mulling over the menu, savvy wait staff offer their recommendations for the best wine, beer, or sake from the restaurant’s lengthy drink lists, along with sweet post-meal choices such as Yagihashi’s signature brown-egg dessert, which Chicago Magazine says "elevates crème brulee to Zen-like perfection."
Named after the Japanese tradition of using trained cormorants to catch fish, Ukai specializes in raw morsels of the sea. Lantern-like light fixtures illuminate the sleek sushi bar, where sushi chef Choong J. seasons a trio of thinly sliced fish with sliced dates, crispy bacon, lemongrass candy, and pinapple yuzu puree to create the Ukai carpaccio. He devotes an entire section of the menu to Chicago sports teams, letting patrons show their allegiance to the Cubs by downing a lightly fried maki roll filled with fresh mozzarella, avocado, unagi, and shrimp tempura. Cooked entrees devised by Executive Chef Paul Chant—a veteran of the restaurant scene on both coasts—include a variation on traditional mushuu duck buns and hanger steak paired with okra. Diners can match hot or cold eats with sips of their own wine at this BYOB eatery, whose simple burnished wood tables and dim lighting evince a modern, upscale atmosphere.