Shakou Restaurant Review – Modern Asian Cuisine

The North Suburbs of Chicago can never have too many sushi joints.  There are so many, that they can all become a blur quickly.  However, we now have a clear standout - Shakou, the hottest sushi restaurant in the North Suburbs. The restaurant was started by friends and now owners. Aleks Dupor, Adam Garvanian and Ed Hartigan. There are locations in Libertyville, Barrington, and St. Charles, with a fourth location in Park Ridge, opening some time this summer.



The main floor dining room


Shakou, which translates as “social life” in Japanese, offers modern Asian cuisine in a sophisticated urban setting, appealing to a crowd that gathers frequently for business lunches and cocktails with friends. It brings a city vibe to the suburbs with its trendy Asian cuisine. It has nabbed two spots on Open Table’s 2014, 2015, and 2016 Lists of 100 Hottest Restaurants in America. Other awards include “Best of the Best” in Asian Cuisine by readers of Forest & Bluff Magazine, highlighted in the “Best of Cuisine” feature by Suburban Life Magazine, and chosen by the editors of NS Luxury Magazine as one of the 50 “Best Bites” in the North Shore. In 2015, Shakou Libertyville has been awarded a Readers’ Choice Award by the Daily Herald, and was named one of the Top 3 Sushi Restaurants in Illinois.


Shakous menu, created by mastermind Executive Chef Sang Choi, includes signature maki rolls, by-the-piece nigiri/sashimi and maki and beef, chicken, fish, noodle and seafood cooked entrees. Hot and cold appetizers, soups, salads and signature cocktails round out the selections. The lunch menu features sushi bar specials, Bento Box lunch specials, and sandwiches.


Japanese symbol for happiness


The sushi bar


In addition to soups, salads, cold and hot appetizers and an extensive selection of individual nigiri/sashimi, Shakou features delicious signature maki. Customer favorites include Shakou Maki -- with lightly battered spicy tuna, shrimp, avocado, asparagus, wasabi tobiko and spicy mayo wrapped in soy bean paper and topped with unagi sauce and Sunny Hill, with crab, cucumber, avocado and spicy mayo topped with avocado, unagi sauce, wasabi sauce and sesame seeds. Executive Chef Sang Choi, who has more than 15 years of experience at top eateries such as Blue Fin, Blue Ginger and Starfish, offers chicken, seafood, beef and noodle entrees, all with a unique Asian twist.


My boyfriend joined me for lunch at Shakou’s Libertyville location this past May. The restaurant has gorgeous, chic contemporary  interiors, with three different levels of dining, including private rooms, a bar and lounge area. The rooms are decorated with sleek, simple chairs and tables, dramatic chandeliers and lighting, art décor, and various textures on the stairs, bar, and walls. Windows are covered with long, white, sweeping curtains, creating an open and airy dining experience. Blacks, silvers, hot pinks, purples, and night yellows as well as fantastic lighting adorn the dining rooms; We both forgot we were not in the city when we entered!



A private dining room



The main floor bar area



Upstairs cozy dining option


We were seated in a booth with plush, comfortable couches. Our server, Carlos, was inviting and pleasant. His service was excellent and enhanced our meal. He was attentive, professional, and knowledgeable about the restaurant and its offerings.


Carlos, our wonderful server


We began our meal with various sake tastings. Carlos recommended the Sake Chef Flight (Shimizu no mai: Pure, Pure Snow, Pure Dawn). Out of the three, my favorite was the unfiltered Pure Dawn. It was different than most sake I have tried before and tasted almost earthy on my palate. We also sampled a cold sake, Yoshinogowa Winter Warrior (guava, mango, pear). I was excited due the drink consisting some of my favorite fruits. However, the flavors were very subtle and overshadowed by the alcohol. I was a bigger fan of the hot sake (Gekkeigan Traditional), which was warm and lovely dry. The cold sake, Junmai Gunjo G Fifty Genshu, provided flavors of green apple, pear, and grape. It was reminiscent of a crisp glass of bone-dry white wine with a hint of light sweetness. The fruit combination was wonderful, and much more prominent than in the Yoshinogowa Winter Warrior.



Chef Sake Flight (Shimizu no mai: Pure, Pure Snow, Pure Dawn)




Yoshinogowa Winter Warrior Sake (guava, mango, pear)



Yoshinogowa Winter Warrior Sake (guava, mango, pear)



Junmai Gunjo G Fifty Genshu (green apple, pear, grape)


Appetizers were next on the multiple course food list. I started with one of my favorite Japanese treats, Agedashi tofu (lightly battered tofu in sweet ginger soy garnish with shitake mushroom, seaweed and rice noodle. The dish was some of the best I have ever tasted. I loved the broth; there was something about it I could not quite put my finger on. My boyfriend began with the Seven Spicy Ahi (butter toasted sushi rice topped with spicy tuna, jalapeño, citrus mayo and tobiko). He enjoyed the freshness and texture of the fish, as well as the lovely presentation of the dish.



Seven Spicy Ahi (butter toasted sushi rice topped with spicy tuna, jalapeño, citrus mayo and tobiko)



Seven Spicy Ahi (butter toasted sushi rice topped with spicy tuna, jalapeño, citrus mayo and tobiko)



Next, we delighted in the sampling of some of Shakou’s bento boxes, which the restaurant is will-known for. We both thought the variety of the food in the bento boxes were very good value for what we got. The bento boxes were unlike anything we had seen before: Two tiered boxes were stacked on each other when served and then placed side by side. My boyfriend ate some nigiri pieces including spicy tuna and swordfish, while I was given an absolutely beautiful roll of the Secret Garden sushi (black rice, soybean paper, radish, avocado, greens, cucumber, asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, and pickled radish). I had never seen black rice in a sushi roll before. The effect was quite stunning and it brought the taste of regular sushi to a completely different level. All sushi rolls should be made with black rice! The bento boxes were complete with tempura vegetables and a side salad.



Tiered Bento Boxes




Tiered Bento Boxes



Secret Garden sushi (black rice, soybean paper, radish, avocado, greens, cucumber, asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, and pickled radish)


The phenomenal dessert choices at Shakou are worth the wait at the end of a long meal. The desserts are apparently good for sharing; however, you sometimes do not want to share! The most popular are the Exotic Bamba (Mango, passion fruit and raspberry sorbetto covered with white chocolate), the Pyramid (chocolate mousse with molten caramel center; dusted with cocoa powder) and the Chocolate Truffle (chocolate mousse with molten caramel center). How lucky were we to sample all three? VERY lucky! The exotic bamba was crisp and fresh with a perfect balance of exotic fruit flavors. It was cold on the inside and warm on the outside. The Pyramid was a tiny, yet jam-packed chocolaty structure of decadent chocolate mousse. The molten caramel center almost sent me to the moon, in a manner of speaking. My boyfriend and I also loved the chocolate truffle the most: Light and creamy, yet bursting with chocolate goodness and the rich caramel center.



Exotic Bamba (mango, passion fruit and raspberry sorbetto covered with white chocolate)


Chocolate Pyramid (chocolate mousse with molten caramel center; dusted with cocoa powder)


Chocolate Truffle (chocolate mousse with molten caramel center)


Overall, the meal was brimming with variety, the unexpected, and a wonderful execution of food, drinks, and service. I am curious about the other locations, and hope to have the chance to see what makes them different and unique.



 Photos: Jennifer Lunz



For more information, and to make lunch and dinner reservations, visit shakousushi.



To sign up for special offers, visit the website or follow the Shakou Facebook page for Libertyville and Saint Charles.



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