Some of Chicago’s best sushi chefs are offering omakase menus rife with rare seafood and super-seasonal ingredients
Control freaks and picky eaters: Chicago’s latest food trend isn’t for you. Omakases—a Japanese word that translates to “to entrust” or “I’ll leave it up to you”—are popping up all over town, offering high-end, multi-course meals to adventurous diners. The idea is simple: Guests are invited to sit back, relax and allow the kitchen to guide them through a one-of-a-kind dining experience.
“Tasting menus tend to be set in stone and more about what the chef wants to serve, but with omakase, we try to create a dialogue with the guests and really make it about what they want,” says Julia Momose, the creative director behind Kumiko, an intimate West Loop concept that centers around bespoke cocktails. “As bartenders, we have the ability to pivot and change things up throughout the evening—it’s an à la minute experience.”
At Kumiko, Momose and her skilled crew chat with guests at the eight-seat bar, asking about liquor preferences, favorite flavors and go-to drinks. From this interaction, bartenders craft a handful of personalized sippers that are paired with a five-course menu, which includes bite-size dishes like A5 wagyu with black garlic molasses, plum and shiso. That on-the-fly flexibility is augmented by access to super-seasonal ingredients, another must of omakase.
Showcasing fresh produce is a priority at Yūgen in the West Loop, where chef Mari Katsumura serves a contemporary omakase menu informed by Midwest seasonality (think Binchotan octopus with winter huckleberries or seaweed salad with fraises des bois). “Omakase is completely rooted in the season and what’s currently available,” she says. “It only helps matters that we have strong seasons here in Chicago, where we look forward to the best ingredients in coming months.”
At Kyōten in Logan Square, diners enjoy a more traditional take on omakase with chef Otto Phan, who serves upwards of 20 nigiri courses to a total of 16 diners every night via two intimate seatings. Beyond the rice, a grain variety he imports exclusively from Japan, there’s no clear star of the menu, a purposeful decision. “I give my guests the very best I have to offer each night,” he says. “I don’t want people to be waiting on fatty tuna the whole time. Each bite is important and tells a story. Each bite has to be a home run.”
But perhaps the most exhaustive experience of all awaits at Mako in the West Loop, where lauded chef B.K. Park serves a whopping 25-course menu to sushi fiends, with bites of king crab, sea bass and duck. Following with tradition, each course is prepared in front of guests, with chefs placing morsels on the counter as they’re ready to be gobbled up.
Though each restaurant has its specialties and quirks, they all have two things in common: lengthy menus and fine-dining price tags—most fetch $120–$200 per person. But for a truly personalized culinary adventure (and little to no decision-making), Chicagoans are willing to pay up.
“Having just a counter between you and the guest is a very intimate experience—like sitting on the other side of the table from someone,” says Momose. “Each of these experiences is different, and it’s a testament to how personal omakase truly is. It was time for Chicago to welcome all of them.”
Omakase restaurants in Chicago
At this River North sushi den from Lettuce Entertain You, diners can up the ante with one of two omaKAZE experiences, named as a nod to chef Kaze Chan. Choose from six or 14 courses ($48–$68 and $88–$108, respectively), which include pristine pieces of nigiri, sashimi and edomae sushi. The tiny, four-seat counter allows you to get up close and personal with the restaurant’s fish experts.