Roll Call—Shakou Sushi

September 2015 View more

NMAG0915_TableForTwo_Shako Interior_800pxThe Fox River cutting across downtown St. Charles will never be mistaken for the Sumida flowing through the heart of Tokyo, nor will the alternately bustling and somnambulant Main Street corridor ever inspire comparisons to the perpetually packed and pulsating Ginza district. These differences aside, however, there is now at least one commonality shared between the northernmost Tri-City and the capital city of Japan—the opportunity to indulge in some genuinely great sushi.

Situated in a handNMAG0915_TableForTwo_Shaku-153_800pxsome wood-faced building in the thick of St. Charles’ unofficial restaurant row, Shakou, which translates roughly to “social life,” is the third outpost of a modern Japanese mini-empire that includes sister locations in Libertyville and Barrington. With its sleek lofted interior, evocative lighting, ambient soundtrack and chic nightclub vibe, it’s also in something of a class by itself, evoking more than a hint of the Vegas Strip in this quiet west suburban community.

NMAG0915_TableForTwo_Shaku-121_800pxRaw Talent

Just as the rest of the Shakou space plays it cool and understated, so too does the compact sushi bar. With minimal flair—except, perhaps, for the handful of miniature wooden boats docked at the ready to transport copious amounts of sushi to parties of two or four in dramatically nautical fashion—three skillful chefs go quietly about their work, pausing occasionally to engage with one of the half-dozen guests seated opposite the glass, but otherwise focused solely on the craft at hand.

NMAG0915_TableForTwo_Shaku-088_800pxWith a profound appreciation for the culinary artistry on display but an eye on a couple of entrees from the hot side of the ledger, we opted to split but one sushi creation on our visit—a colorful Dragon Fire roll packed with crab, cucumber and avocado and topped with spicy tuna, tako and citrus mayo. Advertised as extra spicy, we neutered things somewhat by relegating the fiery habanero sauce to a side plate and pumping the brakes on the wasabi in the accompanying soy sauce. Despite these protective measures, the Dragon nevertheless still managed to breathe some heat, but was most striking for its butter pan-seared base, which lent a nice contrasting crunch to the texture.

Standard Time

NMAG0915_TableForTwo_Shaku-055_800pxIn addition to the roll, we further prepped for our main courses with a pair of dainty and delicious crab cakes with mango puree and a dish of perfectly cooked and seasoned edamame. From there we moved on to a couple of boring but well-executed Asian standards including chicken teriyaki and a warm, welcoming bowl of udon noodles with shrimp, scallops and sautéed vegetables. What these dishes may have lacked in daring and/or surprise, they more than made up for in straightforward comfort and simple satisfaction.

NMAG0915_TableForTwo_Shaku-038_800pxAfter what turned out to be a fairly conservative meal, something called an Exotic Bamba—three fruit sorbettos covered in white chocolate—seemed a bit out of character for dessert, but we did have room left for a couple of treats including a tempura creation of vanilla ice cream wrapped in pound cake and flash fried, and from the “eating light” menu, traditional mochi balls with red bean and mango ice creams. These dessert options once again brought home the theme of similarities outweighing radical differences. After all, if these contrasting cultural takes on ice cream can share space on the same menu, why can’t a great sushi restaurant thrive in downtown St. Charles?

NMAG0915_TableForTwo_Shaku-011_800pxShakou Sushi
312 W. Main Street
St. Charles

Photos by Greg Shapps