Kabocha First Impressions: Satisfying, If You Can Find It

A good effort yields mixed results at new Kabocha. Skip the sashimi; try the tartare.

photo: dining scout

The Dining Scout’s favorite Kabocha dish was a standout wagyu beef tartare with a quail egg, umami paste, and chili-sesame won tons.

You won’t be able to find it. There’s no signage on Lake Street, and the door is on a side street, which I think is Morgan, but that’s visually blocked by a fancy El stop. The room is low-lit and minimalistic—wood floors, the usual natural colors—but it’s warmer and more intimate than most Japanese restaurants.

The cocktails are satisfying, particularly a Thai chili basil smash cocktail with honeycomb (dehydrated in-house) and the incredibly smooth Roots of Innocence sake. Unfortunately, that was the best part of my meal.

Instead of diving into Shin Thompson’s ever-changing ten-course ($110) tasting menu at the kaiseki table, I tried the sashimi Moriawase ($36), which included tuna, suzuki two ways, and hirame. It was served with a dab of wasabi on an adorable miniature cutting board, a fancy-cut carrot stuffed with something pickled, and froth that looked like tapioca. Cute, but the fish just didn’t pop. For $36, it probably ought to.

Sautéed shishito peppers in curried artichoke sauce sounded interesting, but the flavors clashed. The octopus salad with a breaded egg and crispy ginger was a mess, and the Japanese BBQ steak had little flavor.

If there’s any dish I’d return for, it’s the coarsely ground and delicious wagyu beef tartare with a quail egg, umami paste, and chile-sesame won tons. This is what we know Thompson is capable of, and why I risked coming to Kabocha when it was but a few days old. Here’s hoping I missed other such gems elsewhere on the menu.

Kabocha (4.29.13) 952 W. Lake St., 312-595-1616. Japanese.

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