Many chefs have a signature dish, something so unique and delicious that talk of its existence spreads like wildfire – take New York chef Wylie Dufresne’s iconic ice cream ‘Everything Bagel’, or Tokyo stalwart Takazawa-san’s mosaic vegetable ratatouille, which entice would-be diners to spring for prized seats. Chicago itself has no shortage of stunningly creative dishes, and at Kabocha, the recently opened ‘Japanese brasserie’ concept in West Loop, the ‘Shellfish Aquarium’ is Michelin-starred chef Shin Thompson’s must-order signature plate – or should we say, glass box.
Like a shallow, open-top fish tank, there are colourful pebbles and leaves lining the bottom, with a smorgasbord of seafood – lobster, oyster, scallop, king crab, squid ink ‘coral’ – piled on top. It’s the most decadent option on the ‘raw’ part of the menu, although the rest of the curated offerings include a fair share of indulgent dishes capitalising on its ‘Japan meets America by way of French technique’ motto, with an equally unmissable scallop and crab motoyaki, baked to perfection with a ponzu aioli. It’s all served up in an airy but industrial, sleek and comfortable space with wooden floors, exposed beams, and a marble bar, although for an even more elite experience, book Kabocha’s private chef’s table and enjoy the 10-course kaiseki menu, complete with a one-way mirror direct into the kitchen. Sneaky!