1. Omakase Yume
651 W. Washington Blvd., West Loop
Over the course of a 90-minute meal, Sangtae Park floats delicately crafted dishes across a blond wood counter, often starting with sashimi and ending with a matcha panna cotta. In between, he pampers patrons with nigiri, which he embellishes in fresh, creative ways (see photo above). Think silvery iwashi (sardine) dusted with salted egg yolk powder, or hirame (fluke) coifed with puréed aged kimchi — a nod to Park’s home country of South Korea, where he trained as a sushi chef. Want to exercise a little free will? Park offers an à la carte menu of seasonal nigiri as well, so you can request additional options like ikura (salmon roe), kamasu (barracuda), and kohada (shad) at the end of the meal. A bit nontraditional, yes, but you won’t leave unsatisfied.
2507 W. Armitage Ave., Logan Square
Chef-owner Otto Phan is determined to become Chicago’s first Michelin-starred sushi chef — so much so that he moved here from Austin, Texas, because Michelin doesn’t publish a restaurant guide for that city. To be one of eight guests in this sparse room on the first floor of an apartment building is to experience the work of a chef obsessed with the fundamentals: The fish, largely sourced from Japan, is sliced and presented unadorned, and Phan claims to be the only chef in America serving it atop vinegared inochi-no-ichi rice, a prized Japanese varietal that has plump, risotto-like grains. “This rice is central to our philosophy,” he says. “If you’re a repeat customer, it’s because I make rice better than anybody else.”
3. Omakase Takeya
819 W. Fulton Market, West Loop
This Zen-like hideaway, tucked beneath the action of Ramen Takeya, is headed by one of Chicago’s veteran sushi chefs: the classically trained 67-year-old Hiromichi Sasaki. His approach is informed by kaiseki, another traditional, highly formal Japanese style of set-menu dining, one that emphasizes seasonality and ultra-meticulous presentation. Kicking off with an amuse-bouche like a bite of octopus, the meal is incredibly varied, including sushi in the Edomae style — a centuries-old tradition in which fish is aged or cured — and kaiseki-style small plates. Among these pleasures, depending on the month: delicate chawanmushi, a shabu-shabu of A5 wagyu beef, and grilled delights like black cod and large spotted prawn.
731 W. Lake St., West Loop
Chef B.K. Park earned a reputation for innovation at Juno, and he plans to bring that same spirit to Mako (slated to open by the end of December), which he describes as “an avant-garde take on the Japanese omakase.” He says the spot will follow the traditional format, with each bite prepared in front of guests and placed on the counter by the chef. But modern interpretations will abound, like sake-marinated eel and hirame paired with preserved Meyer lemon. The meal will also include some warm dishes, like kabocha squash roasted in chicken fat and served with king crab, miso hollandaise, and soy-cured quail egg yolk. The experience might be less intimate than at other omakase spots, but the flavors will be big to match.