"There is no sushi," Shin Thompson says firmly when we ask about the raw bar at Kabocha, which would be just about perfect for sitting at, watching someone slice fish. There will be, it turns out, composed sashimi plates. But in a city full of not especially distinguishable sushi bars, the former chef/owner of Michelin-starred Bonsoiree intends for his 952 W. Lake Street "Japanese brasserie" to stand above the pack through its artful blend of Thompson's classical French training and his understanding of Asian, mostly but not strictly Japanese, styles and flavors.
Planned for an opening in late April or early May, Kabocha is done up in subtly sexy grey accented with red and made dramatic by enormous light fixtures from Argentina that look like turbans. It's also made distinctive by Chicago scenes painted by artist Beth O'Donnell who happens to be the mom of co-owner Ryan O'Donnell (Gemini Bistro, Rustic House). The use of "brasserie" is meant to set the tone it's not formal dining (unless you snag the two-seat kaiseki chef's table, where a ten-course set meal will be served). But at the same time, like a Parisian brasserie, the kitchen doesn't kid around. The food is sensuous and gorgeous, yet Japanese notions of restraint and simplicity are unmistakable on the plate.
We popped in with our man Huge Galdones to see how it was progressing and to preview some of the food; his slideshow is below. We also have the latest menu, still subject to change, but reflecting how Thompson sees the restaurant working today.