-Grubbing in Chicago
New to the 'Scene'
Boka Restaurant Group has planted their flag on the Southeast corner of Southport and Henderson in Lakeview. Born in 2002 Boka has already cemented itself among the major players in Chicago's hospitality industry and their newest project is a special three in one offering. In taking over the old Southport Lanes Bowling Alley they opened three different spots anchored by Stephanie Izard's Little Goat Diner. GG's Chicken Shop and Itoko are also operating out of the same building. I had thought about visiting all of them in one swoop but it was Itoko that I was the most intrigued with.
One of the main reasons I found Itoko to be more intriguing than the other spots was that they tapped Chef Gene Kato to run the show. That and I love Japanese food. Kato also runs Momotaro and was the guy behind the now closed Sumi Robata Bar which I enjoyed when it was around. Itoko means cousin and it's meant to be that to the more glamorous Momotaro. Itoko aims to be more of a neighborhood place with a menu that includes a variety of sushi styles, robata (grilled skewers) and donburi among other things. One of the more popular menu items early on has been the "TCD Tuna Toro" which is one of two Chirashi Don on offer (sashimi on sushi rice). It's not cheap ($35) but I did find it to be a hit. It consisted of kaluga caviar, pickled onion, sushi rice, nori and fatty tuna belly.
The Sushi is broken down into six menu sections which include Nigiri / Sashimi, Nigirizushi, Makimono Classic Rolls, Tamaki Hand Rolls, Specialty Maki Rolls, and the Chefs Selection of Sashimi. The Yama from the Specialty Maki Rolls portion was one I kept seeing mentioned in reviews which were convincing enough but it was just ok. A description of "crispy shrimp, snow crab, cucumber, sweet soy" sounded great but was decent at best and I wouldn't get it again. I probably would've liked it more when I was younger so I can see why it's a popular plate with a customer base that's going to lean on the younger side in this part of town. Temaki Sushi is often called a “hand roll” because it's made with a rolled cone of seaweed wrapped around rice and fillings. I feel like these are another menu item geared towards a younger clientele so I skipped them and got a few pieces of Nigirizushi which translates to "gripped sushi" as it describes seasoned sushi rice molded by hand. The Hokkaido Hotate with scallop, uni, and ikura was a delightful bite.
I also had to check out a couple of the non sushi offerings starting with a pork and foie gras gyoza. I remembered there being some good gyoza back at Sumi Robata Bar and it was cooked with a crispy skirt or a lattice like crust which is how I like them. I wasn't sure how the flavor of foie gras would work mixed with pork but I really liked these in big part because the foie gras was announcing itself to where you knew it was in there. They tasted like pate dumplings so of course they're going to be delicious. The Beef Chahan (wagyu beef, kaiware, maitake, soft poached egg) was equally delightful and came with a table-side presentation as it's delivered sizzling and mixed up by your waiter upon arrival (have your camera phones ready, influencers). It had a really nice crispness to it. At first we weren't going to do dessert but when I saw kakigori I ordered that immediately. If you don’t already know kakigori (Japanese shaved ice) is my favorite dessert of them all so I was excited to get some but that excitement ended upon the arrival of what was basically a bowl of rolled ice cream. At first I was pissed (in a playful way) but it was pretty good nonetheless. I didn't get a pic of the separate dessert menu so I forget exactly what was in this but it was basically meant to mimic a dreamsicle with orange and cream flavors included. All in all Itoko is a very nice match for the neighborhood.
3325 N Southport Ave
Chicago, IL 60657