Ready to Roll

November 2019 View more

Sashimi bento box

While the worlds of politics and entertainment may be notorious for putting style over substance, the restaurant industry is far less forgiving of these commonly misplaced priorities. For as much as a grandiose opening of an impossibly chic scene is sure to pack diners in for a few frenzied weeks or months, if the kitchen isn’t able to back up the design sizzle with competent dishes, the whole endeavor is likely to wind up a literal flash in the pan.

Downtown Naperville is, in fact, an excellent microcosm for this Darwinian dining phenomenon—there are simply too many truly tasty places to waste time on a second or third visit to a beautiful room with a middling menu. One could be forgiven, then, for casting a skeptical eye at the sleek urban vibe on display at the latest suburban outpost of the Shakou family of Asian eateries (22 E. Chicago Ave., With its lofted ceiling, ultra hip design elements, seductive lighting, low-slung sofas and expansive storefront windows, the Naperville restaurant joins its brethren in proudly wearing style on its well-tailored sleeve. But given the plethora of great options within actual walking distance of its River Square location, the question is whether Shakou can handle the heat (so to speak) of this town’s well-populated sushi scene—beyond the eye candy, that is.

Berkshire pork chop

“The vibrant downtown Naperville dining scene is a perfect fit for our concept of bringing the city vibe to the suburbs,” says Mackenzie Bach, general manager of the Naperville location. “While there a few choices for sushi, our diverse menu and unique atmosphere offer patrons a dining experience like no other in town.”

The diversity of the menu backs Bach’s claim as one of Shakou’s notable substance-over-style selling points, with a wide array of sushi and sashimi choices complemented by an impressive selection of hot entrées and noodle bowls. If there’s a sushi nonbeliever at the table, he or she will have no problem finding something beyond the go-to California roll. The list of hot and cold appetizers is a good place to get an early feel for this diversity, with traditional options like the just-right crab cakes sharing space with can’t-miss prospects like the delectable bacon-wrapped scallops.

Scarlet Night

Meanwhile, the style element of Shakou is reinforced by the splashy and wide-ranging cocktail program, where colorful concoctions like the blackberry mojito and the Scarlet Night (made with Rabbit Hole bourbon and cinnamon-infused hibiscus syrup) compete for attention with specialty martinis like the Asian pear and the Fire N Ice, which features jalapeño-infused iichiko shochu with mango and passion fruit purées. 


Bach says the restaurant’s bento boxes are a popular choice at lunch, but the full menu is actually available all the time. So whether it’s 11:30 in the morning or 11:30 at night, diners can also choose from signature maki rolls like those we sampled on our visit—the Green Dragon with shrimp tempura, crab, and cucumber drizzled with spicy mayo, or the vegetarian Midori with Asian sweet potato and asparagus. Indecisive souls, or simply those with a flair for the dramatic and/or nautical, can summon one of Shakou’s two- or four-person sushi boats to enjoy a sampling of several creations, while the entrée slate includes everything from staples like salmon teriyaki and chicken katsu to less-expected fare like braised short rib or a Berkshire pork chop.

If there’s any room for dessert (and there’s always room) the pyramid is an engineering wonder of rich chocolate mousse shaped into the titular polyhedron, offering a perfect balance of style and substance to round things out. 

Photos courtesy Shakou