4/26/2013 01:14:00 PM

First Look: Kabocha, a Japanese-French Hybrid in the West Loop

Photo by Galdones Photography
When Japanese cuisine meets French technique, the familiar seafood tower is translated into a shellfish aquarium - yes, a rock-bottomed Plexiglass aquarium filled with raw shellfish including lobster, king crab and squid ink coral. It is the creation of chef Shin Thompson (formerly of BonsoirĂ©e) at Kabocha, opening tonight. Thompson, with his business partner Ryan O’Donnell, opened the Japanese brasserie. The restaurant is the latest to join the Fulton Market stunners such as La Sirena Clantestina and soon-to-open OON. Kabocha's fusion menu ranges from that elegant shellfish aquarium to Japanese BBQ steak.

We’ve got the breakdown of the restaurant that is already booked through opening weekend.

Food: Diners have options before even looking at a menu. Will they dine at the 10-seat raw bar, in the dining room or leave the meal in chef’s hands with the ten-course Kaiseki table? Option number one leads to fresh oysters, sashimi and crudo of fish flown in from Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market. Option number two delivers a menu of raw, small, medium and large plates (Find the seafood aquarium in the raw section.) Dishes in other sections include sweet potato croquettes, duck confit pot stickers and Kombu-cured lamb loin. The final option is a tasting menu that changes nightly and is available for $110.

Drink: The menu designed by managing partner William Scott features both local and Japanese beers on tap, a sake and wine list as well as cocktails inspired by ingredients used in the kitchen. The opening cocktail menu has many summer sippers such as the Cucumber Rice Cooler with shochu, Hendricks’s gin, lemongrass and wild rose tea syrup and cucumber juice. The Mandarin Mule combines mandarin blossom vodka, ginger beer and lime juice to make a refreshing drink.

Decor: With exposed brick, exposed beams and exposed ventilation, this restaurant is airy with large orb lights and a neutral color scheme. The crudo bar sits at the entrance below a collage of paintings of Chicago. Walk further into the space and find the open kitchen and marble bar. A mirror reflects some of the wine and sake selection. The dining room is divided into tables and booths and features more paintings by O’Donnell’s mother, Beth O'Donnell.

Details: 952 W. Lake St. (entrance on N. Morgan St.); 312-666-6214


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